Sunday, 27 December 2009

Breaking The Glass, by LouAnn Muhm

Loonfeather Press, $11.95,

I first came across LouAnn Muhm’s poems in her fine pamphlet Dear Immovable, and the graceful lyrics in this first full-length collection build on its considerable strengths.

So, there’s the same economical, hard-won language, alongside the same willingness to allow real emotion and vulnerability to seep through. It’s a hard balance to strike, but it’s to LouAnn’s credit that she very rarely allows a poem to topple over in either direction.

Instead, she makes a virtue of brevity and understatement, extracting quiet significance from everyday moments by her very refusal to flag up that significance. A poem like Shoveling Out presents a seemingly straightforward domestic situation, but you’re left to draw your own conclusions as to whether a sudden snowfall is indeed “a gift, / a day / maybe two if you’re lucky, / of clean white forgetting”, or the “terrible weight” it has become by the last line.

This pared-down, almost Zen-like style (and spirituality is another concern here) is used to present a loose emotional and narrative arc, in which the above-mentioned forgetting (or the impossibility and undesirability of doing so) is a key theme. The poems gather in life in all its complexity, with the whole journey ultimately assuming more importance than the destination, so there’s no attempt to jettison any part of the past. It works wonderfully in poems such as Waitress, where the effect is ultimately uplifting, joyous even.

The longer collection also allows her to spread her wings further. The final section, Archetypal, steps outside the narrative arc somewhat, although the concerns are the same. For example:

"The Lady of Shalott / could not weave the world / and live in it, / just as I can not write a thing / that is here."

That reiteration of absence as a major theme is interesting, because it’s only here that it’s made explicit. Elsewhere, it’s implied and inferred, but none the less affecting for all that.

This is a fine first collection, far more than just a ‘best so far’, and what comes next will be well worth looking out for.

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