Tuesday, July 19, 2011

What I'm Reading: Wait

85º ~ another round of bright sun and no rain, no breeze today either

Alison Stine's second book, Wait, won The Brittingham Prize in Poetry last year and I was able to pick up a copy, I think at AWP.  This is one of my top 5 contests for consistently putting out great books, and it lives up to the reputation with this one.

Wait is all about love and lust, regrets and longing, sex and joy, too.  While there is not a clear narrative arc for the book, there is a consistent speaker revealing the age-old journey from innocence to experience.  Formally, I find the book interesting because Stine moves easily between the single stanza, left aligned block of text and the more airy, multi-stanza, multi-indented lines of text.  Being more drawn to the latter in my own work, I read the former with extra attention to see how Stine made them work. 

Luminescence, each of the poems in this book glows with intense images and powerful feeling that never crosses into sentimentality.  It was almost as if each poem was pulsing with energy and I found myself tearing through the book on my first read.  However, I'm having a hard time summarizing what made me feel that urge to turn the pages so quickly, given there was no mystery or plot pulling me toward the end. 

Here is an excerpt from one of the first poems in the book, "Child Bride."

It's different every night.  Your sister
has two days before her wedding, 
but she has been sewing since she was five.
Your cousin is nineteen, but her groom
is sixty.  You risk salvation by squeezing
your eyes.  Now your prophet is wheat
in a rain field.  Now your prophet is acid
and orange.  Love ends in the pocket, a rope
belt untying.

This poem has one of the most haunting last lines ever, but I'll let you discover it on your own, Dear Readers. 

"Salt" has the same intensity but with the added white space I mentioned earlier.  Here is the beginning.

You were the lover for which I bled.  Comfort me
.....with salt: tears, their silken twin.  Understand

..........I have made my arms doors for you.  Listen:

I love that "listen" followed by the colon that keeps us breathless and urgent at the end of the line.

One of the most heart-breaking poems in the book has the speaker detailing a miscarriage.  Again, what stands out here is not only the powerful language but the ability to avoid the overly dramatic sentimentality that the subject matter could easily cause.  Here is an excerpt from "The Red Thread," and for clarity, the speaker is in the shower.

A red snake coils at the bottom of the drain: our child,

......phrased like a question.  The plum tree in back
...........ruptured in blight.  Still, I could say nothing.

My favorite poem of the whole collection may just be the very first poem, "Wife."  In it, the speaker recounts a childhood filled with the urge to rush into adulthood, into sex really.  She states, "I got in a car / for a strawberry cream" and later "I wanted / to be dancing."  By the way, that line break on "wanted" is brilliant as it sums up that restless urge of the teen years.  However, the speaker then admits her regret for rushing into it all as she addresses her husband and wishes she had waited.  She states:

.............................I would have curled a rabbit whorl, a mouse nest,

in a leaf-spilled shade.  I am a bird the field and I want you to find me.

............I want you to find me.  Tell me wait.

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Erin Lynn said...

You write so well about this collection, Sandy, that I can't wait to pick it up!! Do you ever write book reviews? You should!!


Kathleen said...

Enjoyed this close read, the excerpted poems themselves, and your thoughts on the shape of a book. I have certainly enjoyed books of poems that do have a narrative arc and books that don't. Is the prevailing trend or hope now that they do?

Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks Erin and Kathleen.

Erin, I call these pieces reader responses. I don't write official reviews because a) I don't want to write about something I didn't like and b) I doubt I could be objective.

Kathleen, I like both types of books as well. Not sure if there is a prevailing trend or not. So hard to pin poetry to one spot. What do you think?

Quintilian B. Nasty said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Sandy.

Sandy Longhorn said...

Q, let me know what you think.

Anonymous said...


Sandy Longhorn said...

Thanks for stopping in, Andressa.