|Review two books of poetry
I Want This World
The Circumference of Arrival
Reviewed by Mark Brazaitis (Guatemala 199193)
DURING A PREVIOUS TROUBLED TIME in American history, President Herbert Hoover said that what the country needed was a good poem. Its hard to imagine George W. Bush making a similar pronouncement, but if he were to do so, he might follow it by pointing readers to two recent collections by returned Peace Corps Volunteers.
I want you in the flesh.
Szumowski is adept at probing the metaphorical resonance of commonplace items, especially foods. In The Potato, she traces the tubers significance to both her parents generation and her own. In both cases, the potato represents a kind of endurance and, therefore, assumes a holy place in her familys world:
Never forget the white church of their insides
Szumowski displays a sensitive eye in capturing landscapes. Borders, in the books second section, paints a picture of both sides of the Rio Grande, first Brownsville, where trees flame and the sun/beats blood-red through palms, then the Mexican side:
Here are the men pushing carts,
The poets subtle wit is in evidence in this poem as well. It concludes with an observation travelers to countries south of the United States will no doubt have made themselves:
Everywhere people tell me
Nowhere is Szumowskis wit more in evidence than in the third section of I Want This World. At the Fancy Feet Boutique With My Punk Ballerina is an exasperated yet sensitive look at a young womans effort to find her place in the world. Although the poems heroine dresses like deaths bailiff, her appearance belies her physical grace. In the four concluding lines of this lyric, the narrators understanding of her daughter is turned on end. The girl with blackish-purple hair and ears with seven holes is transformed when performing:
Stronger than I knew,
In the concluding section, Szumowski shows how experiences overseas can be the stuff of rich literature. Incident on the Gondar Road will resonate with returned Peace Corps Volunteers. Instead of reaching the Blue Nile, as theyd set off to do, the dumb Yanks who narrate the poem hit an old man who stepped in front of their car. Their destination is altered, as they have to travel to Addis Abada to find a doctor. The poem never says it outright, but its implication is clear. The trip with the old man represents a special journey in its own right:
Anyway, you should have seen the old man staring
If Szumowskis poems are strong because of the stories they tell and their pointed, tender observations mixed with humor, Meeks The Circumference of Arrival succeeds because of its intense language and intelligent, sometimes brilliant juxtaposition of objects and ideas. Her chapbooks title sums up her approach. Usually we gauge our arrival in terms of miles or kilometers, but Meek is interested in an arrivals circumference. Immediately we know were in the hands of a poet who will look at the world in a distinct way, examining the rounded while poets of less vivid imagination might concentrate on the straight and narrow.
No one knows if cicada dream the earth
And in Driving the Desert, she writes,
Dawn, no rain, nothing
The narrators in Meeks poems seem incidental. Larger forces time, destruction, death, the life impulse drive her work. Evolution, Lambertsbaii, South Africa, 1992 is a meditation on the borders between land, sky and sea and the creatures who inhabit each domain. It opens with a girl on the beach and concludes with penguins taking the first wobbling human steps to shore.
Mark Brazaitis is the author of The River of Lost Voices: Stories from Guatemala and Steal My Heart, both works of fiction. An assistant professor of English at West Virginia University, he has published poetry in The Sun, Notre Dame Review, Slant: A Journal of Poetry and other literary magazines.