Saturday, January 8, 2011

What I'm Reading: Chapbooks by Kathleen Kirk

40º ~ soaking in this direct beam of sunlight as the doomsayers predict 2-4 inches of snow tomorrow

Last month, I was fortunate to exchange books with Kathleen Kirk, who blogs at Wait! I Have a Blog?!  Kathleen has become a friend via the blog-o-sphere, for which I am thankful.  Kathleen works in a used bookstore in Normal, IL and shares my sensibilities as a Midwestern poet at heart.  It turns out we are also both collagers as well, she making bookmarks that put to shame my cards.

When I received two of her chapbooks, Selected Roles and Broken Sonnets, I rushed to read the first and have savored the second more slowly.  Selected Roles contains a wonderful group of poems based on Kathleen's experience as a professional actor in Chicago and includes "lyric and prose poems in the voices of various women and one male animal" from iconic plays/TV shows/stories.  The book is arranged, cleverly, like a play with a prologue, five acts, an epilogue, and program notes at the end.  I particularly liked the program notes as the poet explained the inspiration for the poems, often mentioning specific productions.

Here's the opening of the first poem in Act I, "Miranda," one of my favorite Shakespeare characters.

Much has been made of the island.
All my childhood is a sweet fantasy
of perfection
though I was wild.

I love that clause at the end, so sly.

With that taste, I'll move on to Broken Sonnets, which I just finished this morning, and I'm still processing.  True to the title, the book is made of lyric poems that sometimes fall a bit short of the official sonnet definition, but are really close.  In fact, one of the strengths of the book, I think, is the way Kathleen plays with this form.  Some of the sonnets are in traditional stanzas, but there are others in couplets, in varied stanzas, or with no stanzas at all, and there is even one prose sonnet.   

In this book, published three years after Selected Roles, the subject matter shifts to the more deeply personal, love, birth, and death, all presented in quite an intimate way. While I felt a bit voyeuristic when reading these poems, it was not in a bad way.  I felt like I could walk into Kathleen's kitchen and pick up the threads of her life.  I have no idea how TRUE to life these poems are, but they are TRUE to the feeling of life as I know it, which is all that matters.

In "Roof Leak, Mima Calls," the speaker's husband receives a call from his mother who has been diagnosed with cancer.  However, we are led most gently to this painful moment.  The poem begins:

Tyrant ice
pries up the tar and flashing, disturbs the peace
of shingles, their social order.  It's not the freeze
but the thaw that ruins us...

I love "their social order" as a way to describe shingles, and perhaps I'm drawn so much to the opening of this poem because I spent a bit of time myself helping shingle houses when I was a kid. 

I don't want to give away too much more of the book, but trust me when I say that you should read it.  To get you going, Dear Reader, I'll leave you with one full sonnet.

Here in Paradise

My husband stands on the shore with a net.
Before we go, he wants to see the skate,
its white belly; I want to see him wet.

When we leave here, he will still taste of salt.
I cannot speak, nor close my stinging mouth.
This is how I pray, across the burning sands.

Last night with our fingers we ate the white
flesh of the flounder, innocent and sweet.
When we licked butter from our teeth
it was not a sin--no sin to eat

what we had taken gently in our hands
from the white net, from the bluegreen water.
This is how I pray, lips swollen with the sun.
Forgive me for whatever I have done.

Support Poetry
Buy or Borrow a Copy of This Book Today
Broken Sonnets
Finishing Line Press, 2009

Selected Roles
Moon Journal Press, 2006


Kathleen said...

Thank you so much! What a nice surprise. I came home for lunch from daughter's volleyball tournament and will head back with son this afternoon. And what do I find while checking email & blogosphere but this!! I am touched and delighted.

Sandy Longhorn said...

You are so welcome! Here I kept thinking it was you playing volleyball. :)