Today is Day Seven, Dear Reader, but as I sat down to draft, I decided to start with reading over my favorite poems in Allison Titus' first book, sum of every lost ship, for inspiration. Instead, I got drawn right back into the lovely drama of the book and lost my drafting mind. Not to worry, it will return as soon as I write this mini-review.
Before I start though, I have a question. Both Titus' book and Suzanne Frischkorn's, that I write about here, have titles that are not capitalized on the covers; however, in the LOC data on the copyright page, they are capitalized. The authors and the presses often use the capitalized form themselves. I'm not judging, but I'm wondering what is going on. Is this a font thing? Or is it intentional? If it is intentional, why switch to the capitalization for the official documentation? How would the author like me to present the title?
Now, to Titus, the power of this book is in the way the author creates a mood of longing and loss with such beauty that the reader is sucked into the vortex of the poems and feels compelled to keep reading. The book is separated into five sections and paced like a good meal: in fact, the book begins with an untitled proem that I liken to a petite bouche. It begins, "Think of the nights that / have broken without a word, // have left a starless sky in / your throat." That lament of brokenness, of disconnection, is the theme that holds the whole book together. Of the five sections, each is made up of a handful of poems, with Part Three being a long poem "From the Lost Diary of Anna Anderson," a woman who may or may not have been Anastasia Romanov.
The book begins with an epigraph from Don DeLillo's Americana: There is a motel in the heart of every man. Every section of the book, save the Anna Anderson section, contains a prose poem titled "Motel." Each of these highlights another thread in the book, which is a sense of urban landscape encroaching on the rural, a clash between what is human made and what is wild. For example, here is the first motel poem.
If only some small lament could inventory
our reckonings and we could be done with
it, all the old griefs. Get on with it. From the
floral bed of our discount suite the view is
industrial, all oil slick and water tower. No
permanent forest no fox skulking the river;
no river. Just the concrete. Just transformer
boxes upholstered in snow. Only this
afternoon and the way we have decamped
inside of it. A palsied etiquette of retreat.
Our familiar vocabularies ruined.
These motel poems become touchstones, as we sense the speaker in transit, never able to rest as she searches for something, something never quite named. Throughout the entire book, I felt I was in strong and capable hands, such empathy pouring out from the pages, that I knew there was a real human heart at work here, but not in the sentimental sense. There is intelligence and careful attention to craft, the diction just right, the line breaks and stanza breaks fit just so, and the use of the caesura in a way I envy. Another example, the verbs in the poem "Reckon Thy Disease Its Courtship" sent me spinning (i.e. "Where water baskets / the shoreline..." and "Mineral weeds ratchet the cold...").
Here's a brief glimpse from the end of "Inclement":
Once there was no language
for the weather, just The sky is low and birdless;or The sky is a box of wings.
I will definitely be on the lookout for more work by Allison Titus, she moves me in new directions as both a reader and a writer.
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Sum of Every Lost Ship
Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2010