Monday, March 16, 2009

Review of The Curvature of Blue by Lucille Lang Day

Review of The Curvature of Blue by Lucille Lang Day, Cervena Barva Press, 2009

By Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)

The Curvature of Blue is a fascinating collection of poems from a great small press whose publisher is particularly fond of languages. But the language from which the power of this volume evolves is not eastern European but the language of science. Like other poets who love nature, the author, who has a Ph.D. in science and mathematics education from the University of California at Berkeley (and several other degrees, including zoology and creative writing), has a palette of words that gives her a unique voice.

Here is how she dealt poetically with the death of her father in “A Death”—

“It was inevitable as the day the universe lit up/after a hundred million years of blackness,/as clouds of gas collapsed and ignited/…It was impossible as the intricate movements/of millions of creatures since the dawn of life,/each one finding its only mate to enable/my father’s life to blaze for a moment, eons/later, on a blue-green planet, in a sea of stars.”

She’s certainly a scientist, but is she a mystic? She sometimes acknowledges a sense of the divine, but she doesn’t seem to be religious. She’s wide eyed in amazement, but not directly spiritual. She addresses this in “God of the Jellyfish”:

“The god of the jellyfish/must be a luminous, translucent bowl/the size of a big top,/drifting upside down/in an unbounded sea…And the god of the jellyfish/gave them ocelli/that shine like the eyes on a butterfly wing/…and does not/expect worship or even praise…”

In “Birding: A Love Poem”, the dance of DNA continues on: “I surrender my molecules, too,/swirling in flocks, layer upon layer,/in my cells, like so many birds/with hollow bones and rapid hearts/heading south, the air full of wings,/dazzling, alive with offerings.”

A great villanelle and love poem is “Color of the Universe”, where she addresses a startling scientific claim by John Noble Wilford, who wrote in the New York Times, “The universe is really beige. Get used to it.”

“I can’t believe the universe is tan,/Not red or green or lavender or blue./I feel carnelian when you take my hand—“ But one poem over, she writes of “A Blessing in Beige”: “A bird in flight outshines its silver cage./If the sky’s too bright the stars shine unseen./May our stars burn brighter as we age./Hurray, the color of the universe is beige!”

But the most important question of this book is who is this poet,Lucille Lang Day,
and why haven’t I heard of her before?! She’s written four previous collections and three chapbooks. She’s also the director of a small press, Scarlet Tanager Books, and is the director of an “interactive children’s museum” in Berkeley, California.

Once again the small press gives voice to poets just as deserving of being a “known” as the bigger, commercial houses, who fortunately have captured at least some of the greats.

But Day also proves she can write in other voices altogether in her poetry repertoire. In a section of the book called “Strangers”, she gets into some political and other themes such as “The Liberation of Baghdad”, “The Product is Safe”, and “At Dulles International After Visiting the Holocaust Museum”, to name a few.

She also shows her keen eye for detail in such poems as this one about a flood in her home, “After the Deluge”: “…when the water floods office and bedroom,/then drains into the hall and dining room downstairs,/filling the chandeliers like vases/and staining the ceilings/whose paint now hangs loose/like curling sheets of ancient parchment…”

These are modern, yet ancient pages well worth reading. I strongly encourage you to read “The Curvature of Blue”!

--By Barbara Bialick, author of TIME LEAVES (Ibbetson Street Press)

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