Thursday, May 19, 2011


If I were to make a list (still feel no inclination ever since the brain surgery) of poets whose collected works I would want on my book shelves, Elaine Equi would be one. Her last book, RIPPLE EFFECT, was a "New & Selected" in 2007, and is as close to a "collected" as we have of her work so far.

But here's a new collection that highlights why she's one of my favorite poets (and friends I should disclose, though as with many friends, I dug the work before becoming friends). There is an amazing variety to her approaches to what a poem can be in CLICK AND CLONE (and what a great title, though she admits she got it from a website and asked permission to use it, it's still a great title), many of them startlingly original and/or unexpected.

Several poems in this collection are random lines she read over the shoulders of people on the subway from books they were reading. There's a poem titled "To Eddy Poe" and "A Guide To the Cinema Tarot." There's prose poems thick with words (and meaning) and one or two line poems that may at first seem slight but become more effective the more you think about them (or not, I suppose, depending on how you think, something driven home to me post brain-op). 

An example of the latter is a one line poem called "Led Zeppelin Revision" that goes: "That stairway only leads halfway to heaven."

 An example of the former is "Sight Unseen" which goes like this (and just in case it's not meant to be a prose poem but just has long lines that fill the page, I'll indicate the possible lime breaks with slants):

"It's been a long time since I looked into anyone's eyes as / if I thought I'd find an answer, some truth, a window / (how silly it sounds) to the soul. Not that I don't believe / in souls—only that they no longer reside within us. / Even if coaxed with music and drugs, the soul is shy. / More shy than the naked body is the naked soul. Lenses, / x-rays, MRIs, surveillance cameras, panopticons, our / obsession with sight has made us blind to the invisible. / And then too, everyone has had to become so skilled / as a performer. Even animals act their parts, looking / appropriately cute or feral. The eye, once so potent a / symbol, a gateway, says nothing, seems corny. Now the / only eyes I like to look into are the eyes of certain actors / in old movies, for they shine as if imagining, like the / religious zealot, a world no one else can see."

But speaking of "collected" here's a poem that resonates with what makes Equi such a perceptive and yet playful poet. It's called "Collectible Tears."

"Pear-shaped tears on greasy cheeks.

Thin, trembling chihuahua tears.

Fashionable, glue-on rhinestone tears a la Man Ray.

Watery tears, cloudy tears, viscous tears thick as porridge.

Musical tears worn only to the opera or symphony.

Hundred-proof tears of high alcoholic content often passed
from one generation to the next.

Lacryma Christi: the tears of Christ. Not only did he turn water
into wine, he cried champagne!

Masculine tears thought to be more rare, and as often is the case, 
of higher value than feminine tears.

Wedding and funeral tears, too common to be of much interest."

Some readers may miss (as in not experience) the tiny, or not, explosions of consciousness Elaine Equi's poems can produce. Little epiphanies. And little epiphanies that expand to become big ones. But I think in order to have the satisfaction of that experience, any reader has to surrender any preconceived notions about what poems should be or do upon entering CLICK AND CLONE. Then just relax and enjoy the ride.

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