Thursday, November 09, 2006

Five Books of Poetry Everyone Should Read, Part Two

Bill Watterson once remarked (through his alter-ego Calvin) that “People who are nostalgic for childhood were obviously never children". Catherine Doty’s book Momentum proves that statement wrong. In her poems, Doty deals turns the fear and anxiety of childhood into funny and powerful moments without resorting to imposing her the filter and judgment of adult voice on her former self.

In “For May is the Month of Our Mother”, she recalls what she learned from breaking a statue of Mary:

… I learned then to use something right
or leave it alone. No, I didn’t. I learned twelve-inch Virgin,
polystyrene, luminous ivory, black beads in screw-off bottom
ran $4.95, or twenty weeks of allowance.

In “Curriculim Vitae”. she inverts the normal model for this summary of a life by listing all its mistakes, instead of its successes:

… All the attempts,
like the fish tanks of your childhood,
begun in eager greed and soon to fail,
twenty-five gallons of well-lit bouillabaisse.

This book is filled with characters she feared and loved, imitated and avoided, and they will be familiar to you whether or not you have in your past a neighbor who recorded her son’s BMs on a calendar in the kitchen. You’ll have to get the book for that one.

But for me, the real magic of this book is that it creates metaphorical moments without betraying its sentiment, applies skillful use of language without contriving the behavior or speech of the remembered characters it presents to us.

Momentum is a book I insist people read before they tell me they “don’t like poetry”. It has changed minds, believe me. Don’t make me come over there and read it to you.

Next in our series: Tina Kelley and The Gospel of Galore.

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