The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2012

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JUNE 2012 Issue


Pura López Colomé (author), Forrest Gander (translator)
(Wesleyan University Press, 2012)

Taught as a girl in Mexico to separate down home talk from parlor parlance, Pura López Colomé learned to talk to herself. “I started a dialogue with my personal penumbra.” Aware of language’s mysterious power, she read voraciously and claims that her light-soaked passages “speak back” to the poets she’s read.

The engaging style is culled from echoes of oracles, orchards, birdsong, and “Sanskrit roots.” Surveying life, language, and meaning, each sentiment and scene is etched precisely. Order and caprice coalesce. In refined verse, the poet contemplates mortality and pictures the converse—eternity.

Thanks to a tip from the translator, we learn that some of the metaphors in Watchword can be read in the context of cancer. Benign aspects of nature become malignant as our perception shifts. In “Deep Wound” a rotten orange is tangible. A “bitter bulb” is “devoid of destiny.” The redeemer is language—the “syllabary.”

Other dualities of design are delightfully recreated with “panoramic originality.” We see “A valley rivered like the nerve system.” Boughs of a tree are transposed over alveoli.

“Dialogue of the Ashes” rises up into a climactic, candescent ouroboros. Protesting obscurity, the poet demands “what right does / the atmosphere have / to disperse this vesperal dust, this victim dust, / this virgin dust of two poor believers.” Searching for “divine narration,” this poet drums on the heart of oblivion.

Francesca Abbate
Troy, Unincorporated
(Phoenix Poets, University of Chicago Press, 2012)

Chaucer’s tragic romance Troilus and Criseyde is the basis for Francesca Abbate’s poetic retelling of the tale. In short, Troilus, betrayed by Criseyde, perishes.

Abbate’s updated stage is a silvery landscape—southern Wisconsin including Troy, an unincorporated town of 2,000. It’s a “half” place dreaming of another place like “Café Europa.” The drag races of youth yield to soyfields. A “canister of Ajax” melds the mundane and the mythic.

In laconic sketches, Abbate allows the characters to have awareness of their agency as literary figures. The rowdy friend, Pandarus, recites old potions from Pliny and tells stories about Cassandra. Troilus mopes beautifully for Criseyde in her black dress in the rain at the picnic. Criseyde confesses that his love made her “cruel, a little.” The monologues parse memories and limn yearnings.

Abbate finds insight in her subjects, wringing lyricism from their hopes and trials. Trying to write a love letter, Troilus mixes the banal and the purple in pleasing proportions. Summoning Criseyde, he tells her to bring birds and bees. Then he throws out a powerful, overarching conceit: “bring the whole / star-hive stilled.”

This story really works in poetic form, the narrative propelled by diary-like observations and meditations. Eventually, the “” confirms that “heroes go down / singing. They go down / with mouths full of thorns.” In Abbate’s mouth, those thorns have kept their roses.

Quincy Troupe
(Coffee House Press, 2012)

Quincy Troupe—the name rolls off the tongue promising a train of lyric transport. Some of these new poems are celebratory validations while others are condemnations. Bums, politicians, family, and ancient spirits in a vibrant world make up this “quixotic mix.” Troupe’s voice is singular while also being a cry, implying the larger world and our place in it. He speaks for people and to them.

From Guadeloupe to Harlem, the poet frames philosophical ruminations inside a cinematic eye. He even uses the word “eye” for I. “Eye hear cold voices whipping my language of poetry…dreaming, whirlwinds of rhythms.”

The title poem refers to a French term, errance, meaning to wander. Walking and talking, Troupe employs a polyglot soundtrack as he catalogs the cacophony all around. In “Sounds of New York City,” dedicated to Miles Davis, language, music, and visuals mix. “Salsa, rap, senegalese, mbalax—the rackaderack of jackhammers rattling streets.”

Troupe, like many of those he writes about, is “carrying history.” The words are rooted in “place.” He activates that semantic space, capturing and arranging it in potent passages. “Seven/Elevens” uses gambling idioms to boil down our experience to its ritualistic essence. We’re all subject to the tumbling dice—“bones… rolling” in a game of fortune. It’s up to each of us to “become an improviser with chance.”

Troupe’s improvisations are important, innovative, and alive.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2012

All Issues