Monday, March 30, 2009

Open Letters Carolyn Gregory Review by Irene Koronas

Open Letters
Carolyn Gregory
Windmill Editions
ISBN 9780635257440
2008 $12.00

A poultice of words soothe and reference the magic, transforming pain and the ancient muse that seems to fly in and out of Carolyn Gregory’s poetry. The window is kept open so the reader may feel the fresh air that each word represents. The poems walk along a path with seasonal moons:

“…Each pine was a great green feather in the ground.
I planted four hundred of them
and sumac, pine, and hickory surrounded the house.
Walking a dozen miles through yellow flowers,
I arrived in this green, quiet place…”

The lyrical verse takes its leisurely stroll back and forth, reciting and then like green water from sleep, Gregory shows us pond life, life’s immediacy, each line reflects pretenses from the past, the growth of going there, then taking a different turn. The pond is deep enough, muddy enough for straight up green reeds:

“…So let’s simply wander, my friend,
through gardens of lilies
delight in their unfolding calices.
let water flowing down through rocks
wash us free of past sins.”

A presence floats like so many tulips on dark glass. In her poem, “Siren,” she captures the lullaby that could re-direct and crush the words offered, but Gregory pauses before turning around, away from the deadly rocks. The reader will come to see what she encounters on her many walks. Siren is one of my favorite poems in Open Letters; it relates the dangers of being alone:

“Last night, the siren with fingers
of ice and moonlight visited.
I slept badly, pain in the middle
of my back.
The low hum of engines drifted
out a window.

With cold white arms,
the siren brushed her long braid
over my breasts.
She sang a soft lullaby
only I know.

Smiling, she mentioned the empty bottles
hidden in my closet.
She praised the narcotic, alcohol.
Perfumed poppies tumbled from her red lips
and fell across my blanket.
My back throbbed.
The moon grew big in its black egg cup…”

In “Red Queen and Blind Carbon Copies,” Gregory uses humor to point out the every day power structures that trap some people on a tread mill. Running around making copies of themselves: “who’s playing a tuba to impress students in miniskirts.” The poem describes fantasy, the expectations fantasy hinges on, then the release, the fall the expector becomes grounded on, the wallop of the fall, “…we’re bound together by what we know.” There are no fantastic imaginings in this book, even though there are classical references. Instead, Gregory presents reality, the reality of being human in a watery world:

“To lose the boundaries of breakdown lanes, starting
and stopping like a jolting horse
at rush hour behind a Fed Ex truck,

you must expand your scheme
from hours clocking down to nowhere,
from dreams that mean nothing
but time lost and floundering…”

Yes. The reader will be fascinated by the poems, yet more than likely the reader will be submerged, bobbing up for air, taking quick breathes, stroking the strophes, one after another. The poems exam, float and backstroke past long stem connections, the lily leaves and the croaking frogs waiting to be kissed.

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