Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Diversion: Poetry for Our Survival -- Anne Marie Macari, SHE HEADS INTO THE WILDERNESS

As the year 2011 reaches its finale (which will be marked by fireworks and other celebrations, here on the ridge, no matter how much snow is falling), I'm enjoying a reflection on strong books that have added determination, warmth, beauty, satisfied curiosity, exhilaration, and other good aspects to my own year. And I place Anne Marie Macari's 2008 poetry collection, SHE HEADS INTO THE WILDERNESS, among these.

The book's dedication is to Joan Larkin and Jean Valentine, which situates the work well. "Earth Elegy," the first section, follows the shiver-filled deaths and lives of trees, insects, birds, all the creatures whose lives we savor as we try to make sense of our own. Resonant with sensory detail, these light-filled poems -- often stacked with unrhymed couplets -- tie death so firmly onto life that an elegy can become a salute to the day's possibilities. I like particularly "Mozart's Requiem" with its opening dream during a night in Prague: "a chorus bearing him / even as he wanted //  to stay, dying and composing / as the untongue licked him // toward oblivion and the tenors sang promisisti." The poem moves at just the right speed, no hurry yet no unseemly lingering, toward its own finale: "the story of him // still composing when he died -- as if without / agony -- music all over // the bed, last contractions, timpani, cellos, / his ink-stained hands." If only we could be sure death would arrive this way in our own stories. Even our lives, before death, rarely rise to such music; in "Certain Sparrow," Macari offers a return to "the calcium / of loneliness, the fine shell spotted and cracked, / and the delicate thing ticking inside." Later, in "Praying Mantis," she paints the gawky insect as "Christ child. Your six legs / a cradle: inside / your long thorax, / your abdomen, rocking." And in each of these poems it is as much "our" selves rocking as "theirs."

So much tender and fresh language compiles a shivering prelude to the heart of the book, a 36-sonnet sequence, "She Heads Into the Wilderness." How can we resist its narrative opening, "We always ate from that tree" -- a calling forth of Eve, whose "outlaw breasts" are bound in half rape, half punitive "teaching," in the moment of expulsion from the Garden. Figures of worship, tastes of childbirth and the greater pain of raising the children we love, the holy invasion of our lovers who enter our bodies and hearts -- one after another, the incisive sonnets stack "life today" upon the dusty revelations of the mythic journey. I love especially number XXX, an elegy for a friend and for more: "Octave to octave she passes through the hole / in the world, gathering our weeping into // her voice, as if the cantata were cancer / made song, the beauty of loss swarming us." And in the finale of the sequence, XXXVI (She Heads into the Wilderness), the first lines twisting my heart: "She heads into the wilderness, weeping / and stunned by shame, her eyes open. Into // another country, bent and becoming / fibrous and heavy in her body, feeling // that she is the tree, or that she is the fruit / that ripens and falls, that falls and will keep // falling her whole life." I want to be there, to join this woman as Ruth joined Naomi, as friends answer each other's phone calls and text messages, as we comfort and accompany.

A wonderful "Epilogue" of half a dozen bright poems binds the last edge of the book, full of color and craft and neat yet free stitches. There is much hope here -- watered with salt tears, yes, but growing nonetheless, and promising us that the journey will be itself a blossoming.

From the Alice James Books website:
Anne Marie Macari is the author of three books of poetry, most recently She Heads Into the Wilderness (Autumn House, 2008), and Gloryland (Alice James Books, 2005). Her book Ivory Cradle, won the APR/Honickman first book prize in 2000, chosen by Robert Creeley. Macari is the recipient of the James Dickey prize for poetry from Five Point Magazine and she has been nominated for ten Pushcart Prizes.

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