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Los Angeles Times Examines New Poetry by Mead & Borzutzky

By Harriet Staff


For the Los Angeles Times, Carol Muske-Dukes reads two new books of poetry, each confronting human mortality in very different ways. Daniel Borzutzky’s The Performance of Becoming Human “is an indictment of poetic simile. Think of Neruda, (with his other-worldly lyrical gifts) reacting to state-sanctioned violence in Chile: ‘The blood of children ran in the streets like the blood of children.” While Jane Mead’s World of Made and Unmade “focuses almost exclusively on the ongoingness of dying: a diminishing life witnessed by a reluctant yet attentive daughter-survivor.” We’ll pick up there:

Her depiction of a growing tumor or a confused gauging of morphine dosages that could mean death make the reader want to look away at times. But in disjunctive yet fluidly linked moments, the landscape of the family vineyard, with its flourishing acres, emerges as a background distinct from the stark drama of loss. Harvest bounty is shadowed by fleeting memories in dropped stitches of distraction:

“Passing back to the house/from my mother’s cabin/in the full moon light:/ her wheelchair tracks in the gravel/make a wide turn and disappear/into the shadow of the palm tree,/ as narrow-gauge tracks disappear/into the deep mineshafts/ of the Sierra Nevada”

Mead balances herself as narrator on a tightrope of thought running from her mind to her mother’s elusive consciousness. This “aerial” movement is choreographed against a vast horizon that is split occasionally into memory’s “borders,” adding other contexts to individual death.

Mother and daughter cleave together as two minds in fraught alliance, just as two countries, (represented by the rancher landowners and the migrant workers who tend their vines) also cleave — as the great momentum of grape harvest moves forward:

“From my mother’s cabin I hear them —/Viva los Estado Unidos/This year I haven’t picked figs/or taken them sun-warm to the barn/or left them in the big tin bowl/where the flags of the US and Mexico/hang high in the rafters, left them/with the little sign, Viva Mexico/This year —/ I haven’t balanced on the wagon/picking bad fruit from the two bins/or walked behind the pickers with my bucket,/or watched the bins being strapped/on the trucks, cinched down/my white hands/fruit-sticky at my sides./This year/I have disappeared.”

Continue reading at Los Angeles Times.

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Posted in Poetry News on Wednesday, January 4th, 2017 by Harriet Staff.