Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Caught in the Grate: A Review of Loren Kleinman’s The Dark Cave Between My Ribs

Caught in the Grate: A Review of Loren Kleinman’s The Dark Cave Between My Ribs

Reviewed by Kimberly Pavlovich

Loren Kleinman’s poetry collection The Dark Cave Between My Ribs is rightfully named. Dark and deeply personal, Kleinman’s poems tear the skin and expose the beating heart underneath. Exploring themes such as loss, alcoholism, rape, suicide, and love, her poems are fragments of a life that seem to question the very word life. What does it mean to live after experiencing loss? What does it mean to live while feeling dead on the inside? Is it possible to start again? A quiet desperation is apparent in Kleinman’s poems. There is a sense of waiting for one’s life to get better, to pick up the pieces and feel like a whole person again. Kleinman writes with a powerful simplicity that lingers with the reader afterward.

The poem “I Wanted to Be the Echo of the World” captures the essence of the collection: Kleinman skillfully reveals the emotional and physical vulnerability of not only the speaker, but the inherent vulnerability of being human. The speaker has been raped, which built a barrier between her and her intimate partner. The poem begins, “I break in the porcelain of your hands.” The speaker feels physically broken, but also emotionally shattered. She wants to say something, but is not able to (“I wanted to tell you / that I’ve been raped”), she feels hopeless (“The walls never come up / because they are gone”), and longs for the past (“I miss being a kid / playing in the backyard”). She ends with the thought-provoking line, “In your hands, / I’m the porcelain echo,” bringing the reader full circle. This last line also stands on its own, exemplifying Kleinman’s writing style. Her effective use of short stanzas is a common thread throughout many of the poems in the collection. This technique allows each stanza or line to stand on its own as a strong, individual glimpse of a story, causing the reader to pause and reflect.

In two different poems in The Dark Cave Between My Ribs Kleinman effectively writes of loss. One short stanza that stood out in “Three Days After Your Death” was, “Your face was rotting beneath the water. / You were incomplete, / a snapshot of life caught in the grate, / a spark.” Kleinman’s image of being “caught in the grate” captures the in-between quality one feels after a loved one has passed; one can see the person is dead but there’s a barrier, as if he/she is just out of reach. Another line, this one from “You Remember Your Mother’s Suicide,” reads “You can hear her shaking / the puddles on the sidewalk / with her loud laugh.” Kleinman’s use of images makes the loss come to life. Her technique of second person perspective allows the reader to put him/herself in the same position as the speaker. The reader, too, can hear the mother laugh and many may relate to the experience described. This happy memory triggers grief for the speaker and as a result the reader can feel what the speaker does.

While multiple poems address the same theme successfully, others blend together -- the same ideas expressed the same way using less vibrant language and leaning toward clichés. For example, the theme of lost love occurs throughout, rendering it predictable. For instance, within “Dumb Drunk Love Poem,” the drunk speaker hopes her lover will take her back and asks, “Where do I go now, love? / How do I come back from lost love?” In the poem “Fragments of Love,” the Kleinman writes,

Wondering again,
about love,

the fragments it leaves behind:

coffee cups,

In “Last Night I Had a Crazy Dream about You,” Kleinman depicts a dream the speaker had about her lover and writes, “I wanted you so much / and I couldn’t have you.” These poems felt flat and repetitive. More concrete details would make the ideas and emotions expressed leap off the page. For example, the lines, “coffee cups, / books, / pictures” do not create vivid pictures or meaningful context. One poem in which Kleinman more skillfully writes of lost love is “We Are Not Who We Thought We’d Be.” Kleinman captures the speaker’s disappointment when love does not meet her expectations, lamenting, “We still don’t hope / the other would fill the spaces / between our fingers.” It is in these sorts of distinctive lines where Kleinman’s voice comes through the strongest, making her collection worthwhile especially for those seeking a companion for their process of coping with tragedy.

***Kimberly Pavlovich is an English major at Endicott College. She edits and writes for the Endicott Review and hopes to pursue a career in the publishing field.

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