Thursday, December 13, 2012



cloudfang :: cakedirt by Daniela Olszewska
(Horse Less Press, Providence, RI, 2012)

There's a lot of things I can say about Daniela Alszewska's cloudfang :: cakedirt -- and that surprises me.  I'm surprised because, cough, a title like cloudfang :: cakedirt initially whispered to me that I'd better avoid writing about it: (rather, ::) for I'd inevitably sound stoopid.  I know a poem ain't supposed to mean but, of late (and maybe it's old age), I actually look for meanings in what I read and a title like that is just hinting: you'll never get it or there's nothin' to get.

And maybe I never got it, "it" being the poems.  But I did glean something extraordinarily meaningful in one aspect of most if not all the poems :: which leads me to write onward! and, more significantly, opened me up to the poems until we had fun together :: the poems had fun with me and I had fun with the poems!  Not a bad result...

That is, the poems have some of the most energetically inviting first lines I've recently read in poetry.  They're like page-turners, though I suppose I should say, line-turners.  That is, once you read the first line you're immediately drawn in -- yanked in even -- into the rest of the poems.  Here are some of the poems' first lines--aren't you drawn/curious to continue into the body of the poems if you read them:

you seep through the belly

some skip amok.

squid will never learn to tell the difference between a dolphin + a porpoise

you know i try

with fossils on our breaths,

adopted some beasts

call me--from the pulpit

I hid the saw-

you are a two

my sister killed those gerbils

we were in a petite

ugh, the triple-sixed beast

hey houston!

the taffeta was on

And so on.  I encourage you to stop/pause at the end of each line above and just savor/respond/consider each one.  They're intriguing, aren't they?  And don't you want to read on for the rest of their poems?  Some of my favorites from the above list are "some skip amok" (I'm biased as the word "amok" has a special resonance to us Southeast Asians--"running amok" references the Malay term which means "killing spree"...); "adopted some beasts" (on face value, says something, but a deeper look would argue for that it's a really meaningless (in a nice poetic way) line because "beasts" can be anything or anyone, including the adopter; and "call me--from the pulpit" (which somehow just struck me as hilarious...oh, that song!). Also, more poems should start with something like an ugh!

And, okay, now that I'm writing on this book I should say something about the poems beyond their first lines.  First, their continuations are often surprising.  "you seep through the belly", for example, continues differently from what I'd been expecting at its first read (I expected something leaking through a navel or something like that...); the first two lines, instead are:

you seep through the belly
of the stagecoach

That tickles me.  Actually, let me share more of the poem:

you seep through the belly
of the stagecoach--definitely

w/o child or petticoat.
o, what a nice spot

for a ruckus or some goldfinch.
this is after the noon

starts becoming blazingly
territorial + youre providing

us w/ evidence of bad holler
+ tumbleweed sparkle

That excerpt is so ... satisfying!  It's witty.  It's got nice music.  Its turns are fresh.  It just pleases the mind!

Indeed, many of the first lines continue on to unexpected leaps.  These unexpected turns kept my interest into reading forward through the book until I finished it.  This is a testament to these poems as, sometimes, with poems full of wordplay versus overt meaning, I confess to skimming such poems after the first few poems.  

There are plenty of poets nowadays writing deft combinations of wit and lyric all enervated by an underlying energetic music.  Olzewska is one of them, but also stands out.  She is a master of the "how" in one of her titles which might be the ars poetica for this collection:  "it's not what you think, but how you think it." 

Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor.  But she is pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA, a collaboration with j/j hastain, is reviewed by Joey Madia at New Mystics Review; Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field 6; and Zvi A. Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene.  She also just released a new poetry collection, 5 Shades of Gray (i.e. press, Florida, 2012).

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