Monday, August 21, 2006
APART by Vanessa Kittle
Chapbook: 34 pages
March St. Press
The little backstory is this. Vanessa Kittle is still an intriguing new friend and fellow-writer who joined my Myspace page a few months ago. (Yes, I confess, from the epithet, “Internet whore” I became a “Myspace kid.”) I know some things about her: she lives on Long Island with a female partner and kitten, she’s a former lawyer and chef and she studied fiction and poetry, the latter which she feels a strong compulsion to create. In her picture -- also on the cover of APART – she has a kind of compelling wide-eyed mischievous fairy grin. She’s a kind of witch, I guess you would say, from a spiritualist sect called Magick. Long fascinated by female witches and those thusly accused, I’m automatically curious and drawn in. For as little as I know practically about these sects, I intuitively feel connected to the sense of autonomy, mystery and spiritual rituals such women nurture and generate. Maybe that’s why my 2nd CD’s called “Spell on You,” or why it’s always mattered to me that my birthday falls on St. Joan’s birthday and Epiphany, even why I had psychic voices, do yoga, long for the Priestess card in Tarot readings. It’s in my nature, I guess.
So I go to Vanessa’s website, Abramelin: A Journal of Poetry and Magick, and am struck by its governing principle, if you could call it that: It is an interesting and well-designed site with colored balls offering links from a tree of life. Symbolic and economical. One reads:
“Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” And underneath this tenet:
“Love is the Law, Love under Will.”
Well, without going into the figure of the Scarlet Woman or Nuit –even some of the Star Wars-like creatures that seem to be icons of her spiritual beliefs, I feel comfortable with those two assertions, especially the second. They are clearly pagan, in some way. But that is fine with me. So I come to expect something nature-oriented and maybe erotic about her work. Vanessa writes:
“My own poetry does not adhere to any school. It’s not academic. It’s not experimental. I guess I’d describe it as literary.”
While I agree with all this, I offered another description of her work as being concrete mysticism, and she seemed to like that description and to agree with it.
APART is an excellent title. It sets us up for a perspective that is outside the box, and perhaps describes Vanessa’s commitment to her beliefs. However, these poems are acutely and wonderfully about day to day moments – not proselytizing prescripts. In ”Snow Covers the Door” she writes:
“The boy is standing over me.
He smells like rotten orange juice.
He’s sitting on my bed,
but I am one of those people waiting
to be found by a big Saint Bernard dog
with a wooden bottle around its neck.”
This is a woman who is more comfortable with animals and wintertime than with crushing sociability or summer-heat. She writes in “Bug Sex”:
“I long for the silence of winter,
when all the bugs are dead
or the dry brown hills of California,
where there are few insects.”
Maybe it is that she is really an autumnal child, the time associated with the transition between hot and cold, the magic time of Halloween, the fracas of autumn leaves. In “Fall People” she writes:
“Rejoice my brothers and sisters
for there are long shadows
and deep colors.
Grin at your first purchase of hot cocoa.”
This love for the season of fall culminates in “Jack-o- Lantern” in which she frets over the disposal of a pumpkin who’s been turned into a spirit of the holiday and writes:
“The people who live here must be fearless against death.”
“Have we become that small?
Safety checked for razors?
Who wants a mouthful of blood?
A brain dead halleluiah?
Are any of our people left alive,
Or are they all just fornicating
In sexy mouse-girl costumes
While drinking fruit flavored
Malt liquor and listening
To horror music compilations
chattering their teeth
about their 401ks
and the time of Bauhaus?
Some of my favorite poems in this collection interweave female mythology, angelic presences and rather more intricate imagery and language: “Debris,” “ Where a Lotus Grows,” and “The Difference between Seeing and Being” among them. For she is definitely capable of raising the pitch and switching the planes of her poems.
In “Confessions of a Chi Leech” she begins:
“If I don’t have an orgasm once a week
I turn into a neurotic wolf…”
And in a mad sarcastic humor the last stanza screams:
“This wolf doesn’t have no king.
This wolf needs no king!”
It’s a great come full-circle blusey self-affirming riff.
What strikes me as interesting too, is that for the female eroticism, there is a kind of restrained Puritanism that doesn’t go with mating out of pure lust all the time, or full-scale orgies. No, there is a kind of classical, wintry restraint. There is also a flouting of convention and humor in poems like “Cassandra in a Worn Out Threesome” about an Easter outing to the Ruby restaurant for cheese fries and bloody Marys.
“The guy called it a hedonist’s Easter but we didn’t go home and get naked.” she defends.
Or in “Breeders” – a poem about two mating crabs: “One acts the rooster, one acts the girlie girl even though she ain’t fifteen.” Ending with something that smacks of self-portrait, “And finally, a bitter lobster sits by herself dreaming of seagulls and low tide.”
This is not a bitter young woman, or witch, what have you. And there is a lot of majestic mystical power in her work….always cross-cuttting between the worldly and otherworldly. “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law.” Yes, it is evident in the life she is experiencing, a sensual and metaphysical affair with time and space. In “Postscript” the final poem of the book she throws some weight to the future-side:
We will return to life
in the dust of the last breath
of a broken star.
We will find ourselves
between the particles
revealed by a sun that sneaks
through the blinds
of a dark and stagnant house.
It will be late October
the last warmth. The moment
I call fools summer.
The sun will give us form.
It is R2D2 and we are Princess Leia.
But we are still lighter than air.
Or maybe we will remain empty.
And maybe it is all the same.
Thank you Vanessa for your alchemy, and vision, and verse. I am honored to have been able to share some of your poetry with others. Keep it going.
Reviewed by Lo Galluccio
For Ibbetson St. Press