Watering the Dead, poems by Jason Irwin. Ohio: Pavement Saw Press, 2007.
I’ve been meaning to get to this one for a while, but I had a baby, so…but I finally had a chance to read this collection and I loved it. Jason Irwin first came to my attention with his phenomenal chapbook Some Days It’s a Love Story, which I reviewed here. Pretty much what I said about the chapbook is true for the full length collection. He's done exactly what he should've done; expanded the solid chap. into a really good collection.
Irwin dealt with working class life, hard times in the rust belt. His language was clean and powerful. I was excited to see such a profoundly talented new voice. In Watering the Dead, Irwin continues with these themes. He's incorporated several poems from the chapbook into this debut collection, so it's got a solid core. Here's a link to the website with several of the better poems.
Several of Irwin's poems deal with growing up in a working class neighborhood. There are portraits of abuse, desperation, fathers who've wasted their lives for the profits of others, and young men who can already see their deaths on the horizon. Irwin writes like a Bruce Springsteen song. These poems depict hard lives -- but Irwin isn't pouring it on; he's simply chronicalling the America we so rarely see in university literary journals.
The book is available here.
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We Take Me Apart, a novel(la) by Molly Gaudry, Mud Luscious Press, 2009.
I wish that the phrase "tone poem" didn't have its specific meaning because I'd like to use it to describe this book, but I guess 'tonal poem' will have to suffice. Gaudry's language engulfs the reader, rises and falls like Romantic music. For me, as a reader, this was the most compelling aspect of the book.
The narrator is an unnamed woman dying in a nursing home. The passage of time is calculated by the schedule of meals; meals and food trigger memories, reveries, which take the narrator away from the nursing home and back to her childhood and young life, her mother -- who first introduced the significance of food to the narrator -- and the various indignities and hardships she's suffered, as well as the various joys and victories. Structurally, aside from the flashbacks/food motif, the book is laid out on the page as a poem with line breaks at significant points, which adds much to the feel. Another motif is the references to fairy tales. The narrator is something of a Cinderella, but more like the original version than the Disney version.
One thing Gaudry does well is balance. Her language balances like a cat, never tipping into sentimentality. Her tone, likewise, flows from dark to joyful without becoming maudlin. The narrator has suffered many tragedies, not the least of which is her upbringing:
was a game called temptation that Mother had never taught me
But she still finds joy. Even though her neidhbors are dying, the narrator still eats and lives.