Monday, April 2, 2012

Melissa Butler, Removing

Two days into my reading for National Poetry Month -- only two days in, I should emphasize -- but I worry I am becoming a bit of a curmudgeon. Why? Because I have yet to be swept away.

That's putting an awful burden on these poets, I know.

Melissa Butler's collection, Removing, comes close but never quite carries me over. There are poems where I've scrawled notes to myself, "does it work?" (and in the case of a poem like, "Cited", with each of the 16 words in the one line footnoted, I feel, "not quite" -- though I do wish I could have heard it read as a duet), whereas others most certainly do:

(Remember): The familiar
gathers itself slowly
and then you are there, in a life edged
by dinner time, a garbage truck
and the neighbor
who walks her dog.
"What gathers slowly" (32-3)

Liberally sprinkled throughout this brief collection (22 pieces and one extended cycle; very much a chapbook) are prose poems. Truth be told, I've never been a great fan of prose poems. Butler comes closest to making them work for me, though it would take a much closer reading on my part (and perhaps a discussion with the poet herself) to puzzle through to a satisfactory answer as to why prose, why here, why in these instances.

She hits her stride, I think, in the closing cycle, "Hadeda geographies", six four-stanza poems with a structure and coherence that allow for and build towards something much more than a pithy insight or a dropped pearl of wisdom. And that, it seems on reflection, is the real strength of Butler's work, and what holds promise for her future work: she's not after the sunburst but instead looks to build and weave quietly. While this may mean that in some instances the reader will sweep through a poem like a little noticed spider's web, Butler will (one trusts) spin another. Which may very well be her most perfect one yet, pulling us up, just short, in wonder.

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