Friday, March 30, 2012

Swimming In A Southern Reservoir by Laverne Firth

Swimming In A Southern Reservoir
            by Laverne Firth  $12

Review by Alice Weiss

            As a reader who spent half her adult life in Louisiana, Laverne Firth’s poems were a call to homesickness and desire.  The poet cast me back to tender awful moments, for example, suffering through  the “Southern Summer,” 
                        our stickiness
                        carried over into humid nights. . .
                        we crossed our fingers
                        wished . . .that quickly
                        time would claim the season.
or in “The Fill of Summer,” “rustlings in the grass, and the havey breathing/ we always take for granted.”
The poems evoke the simple  tropes of Southern rural experience, porches, circling chicken hawks, singing through rows of cotton, but they also  rise past the conventions of Southern writing because
they are populated with family, growing boys, Deacons, and singers.  Of aunts on the porch (I count five in the poem),” Distances,” Aunts seem to crowd on a porch. The poem is structured  according to their birth order.  The youngest, who speaks of men, the two oldest who do not, and “Two aunts sandwiched in between/start an argument.  A frog is heard,/ loud, near.”  A speaker,a little boy is listening and doesn’t quite get what’s going on . . .”Things become complex.”  It is a poem where the title seems to pinch all our perceptions with irony of the distances living close creates. 
            Further, I find the In addition, Firth manages to portray the  struggles  Black families endure in the context of institutional racism with amazing grace.  In the voice of mourners at the funeral of  a woman in “Everybody Was Impressed,”

            She must have been happy  how could she
            have not been so after nine birthings, sixty years

            of heavy domestic service, most of it in the best
            of homes,

and in “From the Time I was Born” singing through the wounds, and miseries,

             for my chance to breathe. . .

            My grandmother sang and sang and sang
            through the rows of cotton, through the
            two hundred pounds she would pick in one day.

We are conviced that “From the time that [he} was born, [he] knew singing.”

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