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But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise
Returning to an old tradition and making good use of Harriet to spread the word about poetry books, I wanted to give a shout out to Lillian-Yvonne Bertram, whose debut collection has recently been released through Red Hen Press.
But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise signals disruption, interruption, discord and, on a more empowering note, defiance. Though racial tension is part of this struggle, the dial shifts left, then right, to other forms of conflict, mainly love and desire. The two entities invoked by name are Amodeus–the demon-lover representing the deadly sin of Lust–and Radiowoman, who declares “Our strategy is to remain,” as in to resist expulsion, exile, ex-communication, in all of its complex meanings.
With poem titles like “Apocrypha,” “Behind the Christian Door,” and “In Leaving My Lover Teaches Me Half a Bible Story,” Bertram sets the stage to trouble–indeed blow away–religious tropes with stories that can’t quite align their compasses to the rigid tenets that insist on defining (and policing) values, behaviors, and life lessons, even though the times (“those old times everyone knew had occurred/ but no one alive had lived them”) have become more complex (“O thuggish awakening./ All planets but this one were named after gods.”). From the poem “Account of the Apparitions”: “when every girl/ & friend// needed an abortion. Even me./ We all had one. Two. Hundreds.// It was all so hip// All so cruel. It was/ a hip kind of cruel. It was a club.// We took blankets sewn/ with thinning economic plans and called them// shawls.”
The push-and-pull between religion/ superstition and science/ technology, between the actions of human urges and the physical functions of the body, moves through the poems, creating a language that doesn’t aim for reconciliation but rather conversation, or at the very least, awareness of relationship (“We will learn/ more about the cosmos then apply// that knowledge to the arts.”). Hence the series of “fractal” poems, the inclusion (or intrusion) of mathematical equations, molecular formulas, and radio static–meaning and the interpretation of words (“a newer, more improved, magic”) cannot take place without them:
anyone monitor this frequency
But a Storm is Blowing from Paradise is a rich book with plenty of channels coming through loud and clear. There’s plenty of thinking (and imagining) happening on the page. Bravo, Bertram.