Saturday, November 30, 2019

Softly Glowing Exit Signs By Georgia Park






Softly Glowing Exit Signs
By Georgia Park


Softly Glowing Exit Signs is a book of poetry with three longer pieces included: one of non-fiction, one of fiction, and an excerpt taken from Georgia Park’s writing catalog.  The takeaway from reading Softly Glowing Exit Signs, is that the writing is real life, and that overall poetry is real life, and that real life can be measured and unmasked within writing itself. When reading Softly Glowing Exit Signs I felt I was left in a room with Georgia Park, and she is telling me everything with a vulnerability she has not shown many people. It left me needing to read more, or sit and listen because anything else would be unjust.


Ms. Park, a professor at North Shore Community College takes the reader through her life, from the beginning to the end, the years running through the pages. The first poetry section, FIRE!, is not about the recent fire which ran through her apartment and left her homeless, but rather some snippets of her early life totally exposed. There is a Grease Fire where her brother causes the kitchen to ignite and the narrator is left frozen and doesn’t flee until the firefighters arrive, which rings true to some of the other poems where she is left counting daisies in the outfield when a fly ball is coming, or in emotional pain when a piece of glass is imbedded in one’s heal which causes pain and discomfort in every step. These are all metaphors used deftly by Ms. Park. I was stricken by the how real objects or things are personified into visceral feelings….old broken down Volvos that are named, dead fish in a tank, and even a morning cough, are all wounds that are open inside the vision of this work.
As in the opening essay, What Happens in the Maloka, an attempted expulsion and exercising of demons via Ayahuaska, the book also travels down the battleground of spiritual growth and the feeling of being whole.  As there is growth, there are mistakes, and lessons---and sometimes outright defiance of the world we all live in. We see choices made in the poem The Last Reunion, where the poet who felt small, bookish, and invisible in High School is made to feel that way again, by a “now known/famous classmate,”  who is her date for the evening. The poet then hooks up with two of her past bullies at the event to take back some power.
The next section, EVERYBODY RUN!, starts out in Costa Rica where there seems to be an awakening. The poems which take place during times of travel, in general,  show new strength and acceptance with the ability to look back at the past. How Stupid I Was and Lost, looks at past behaviors and the growth into new ones. Other poems in EVERYBODY RUN!, explore Koi Fish as an unexpected solution to decrease angst, and anxiety, and the spiritual serenity written about in the poem Buddha’s Lap:

I am so warm
in the Buddha’s lap the Buddha
and there is buzzing
in my ears
moths and dragonflies
are settling
here and there
my cheek warms
on his stomach
and like a statue
I think of nothing

The section then morphs into some dangerous adventures featuring alcohol and lust-making followed by a repeated theme of therapy, and therapists. The jury is not out on if it is actually helpful or not, but the most hope of all is found in thinking about the possibility of running into a daffodil,
and there’s a little daffodil
I can’t see it, but I know it’s there
its strong, wild and vibrantly yellow
and someday, I’ll pluck it from somewhere

            This section is followed by what is called an excerpt, but what I would call a strong, stand-alone, twelve page story called Hot Pink Iron Lung. It is pure magic, where the metaphors can be believed, and the truth be told in metaphor, much like the underlying technique of the entire book. Poetry books can often be books people read in dribs and drabs, rather than cover-to-cover, but during any time a reader’s brain might need refreshing, I would strongly recommend jumping to Hot Pink Iron Lung immediately.
            The book ends with the final titular section, Softly Glowing Exit Signs, where we do get to the poet’s recent fire. This time, instead of being frozen, the poet continues to live and work wearing smoky clothes, and the bare minimums---the message being, she is stronger, functional, and getting through this. This is reflected upon in the poem, Spiraling Questions where the most treacherous act is What if I recklessly wrote three or four poems a day?  Near the end of the poem there again is growth, and it is shown with such beautiful self-discovery:

                                                   Could I possibly
forget what happened to me (was it me, really, even back then?)
or at least stop talking about it and just go quiet
could mine pass for a brain that’s not short circuiting?

            Perhaps the tenderest piece of Park’s occurs in the poem, Bits of a Butterfly, were vulnerability isn’t hidden or camouflaged, it just is.
I kiss you because I see
softly glowing exit signs
in your eyes

Conclusively, Softly Glowing Exit Signs feels exactly like spending hours, being up all night, with a person bearing their soul, to which all you can be is silent, and listen, and all you can say is, “Thanks for sharing all of this with me.”

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