Thursday, July 22, 2010


I first heard about this series of poems— SLAMMING OPEN THE DOOR by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno—on NPR. I can't remember which program, but it was an interview with the poet in which she read from this book, and it was impossible not to be moved.

The poems are a response to the murder of her grown daughter, a recent nursing school graduate. The show was difficult to listen to but also engaging and enlightening as well.

There used to be, among the poets I came up with, a quick judgment of poems that seemed to exploit personal tragedies, as if they were all "cheap shots." And there's a more recent criticism that the only narrative prose and poetry that can get any attention now has to be based on some form of sensationalism.

But in the case of Bonanno's experience and the ways she informs it and us, that kind of criticism is useless.

These are powerful poems individually and as a group, and seem as necessary as our instinct to turn away from what they convey.

This opening poem—"Death Barged In"—gets it right [you probably have to click on it to enlarge it in order to read it].

As soon as I got this book, loaned to me by poet and friend Theresa Burns, I had the feeling I knew Bonanno, even the photograph on the back of the book looks familiar. But maybe it's just that we have all heard versions of this story too many times in our lives and this response is so vital and so basic it feels like personal history somehow.

And just as difficult to generalize about. Some of these poems are beautiful lyrics whose heart is an image that cannot be ignored. Some are fragments of the most reductive observations and yet the poignancy of their impetus creates a power few such poems can match.

There is no way to separate the horrible reality the poems are about, whether directly or indirectly, from their power so I decline to even take part in that argument. Maybe a future generation can judge the relevance of that ingredient on their lyric or anti-lyric power, for now all I can do is marvel at their clarity and precision, and unflinching honesty. here's one of many examples:


Don't pity me:
I was too lazy to walk
up the stairs
to tuck her in at night.

When I brushed her hair
I pulled hard
on purpose.

And always—
the sharp,
plaintive edge
on the rim
of the spoon
of my giving.

The craft that went into the line breaks—simple but rhythmically, and narratively, complementary—especially in that last stanza with the hard, pounding "masculine" endings (as they used to be defined, that is the emphasis falling on the last syllable) of "sharp" "edge" "rim" and "spoon" followed by the softer (yet meaning-wise much harsher in this context) "feminine" (that is the last syllable in the line being an unstressed one) ending of the last line—"giving"—is a pretty fine example of turning grief and piety as well as sympathy and empathy into the harsh reality of the mix of qualities every instance in life contains.

It would be hard to imagine anyone but a fine poet getting that so right and so succinctly. It's a powerful read I recommend.


Anonymous said...

thank you for bringing this to our attention...stunning, and it is her first book...

Anonymous said...

the spoon
of my giving.

jeeze that is kind-of just out of a freshman "creative writing" class!

trite an hackneyed.

this poem is an essay pretending to be a "poem"

I'll pass...