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Timothy Bradford on Paige Ackerson Kiely

Paige Ackerson-Kiely. In No One’s Land. Ahsahta Press, 2007. $16.00 paper. 75 pages.

Loneliness makes you strong. I’m thinking of George Orwell writing 1984 on the Scottish island of Jura, where deer outnumber people twenty-seven to one, Gregory Corso’s ode to loneliness, “Marriage,” and Tibetan Buddhist monks in three year, three month and three day solitary retreats. Deer, alcohol, questions of marriage, and meditations on death also appear in Paige Ackerson-Kiely’s debut poetry collection, In No One’s Land, and loneliness pervades and emboldens the voice there.

The book’s epigraph from the Finnish-Swedish poet Bertel Gripenberg, provided in Swedish and translated as “In no one’s land, with no one will I stay,” makes this agenda clear from the start. (In the author’s statement accompanying the book, Ackerson-Kiely mentions that these lines moved her so much she had them tattooed on her shoulder.)

Take the opening prose poem “Foreplay,” which begins, “You are sitting on the bed. The motel room is the color of / breastmilk, nutritive water rinsing the palate of you.” The poem then spins through a series of word-based associations that touch on paternal pride, a lion’s pride, “an unwound basket,” and wounds before arriving at the moment before the presumed lover’s arrival as the poem ends, “Any minute now someone will push his way through the door and announce something. Dinner is served. The surgery was a great success. I’m sorry ma’am, but you’ll have to come with me. Answer a few questions.” And so a poem that promises sexual activity leading to some sort of union instead delivers all of the complications and loneliness, even when with others, of the world.

Prose poems make up more than a third of this collection of forty-four poems and also represent some of the most intriguing and haunting work as Ackerson-Kiely benefits from the extra space into which her seemingly disparate themes can be slowly woven together. Especially luminous are “Instructional Lecture for a Liquor Store Clerk,” “On the Austerity of Autumn,” and “Greenland,” the latter a meditation on death via the story and photographs of an Inuit mother who kills her children in 1928 to end their suffering from starvation.

Even though more traditional line breaks and stanzas take away from the prose poem space Ackerson-Kiely uses so effectively, they sometimes serve to heighten the lush, nearly Romantic language she works against in the book, as in these lines from “Spring Thaw”: “I allow you to guess correctly. The confidence / you will gain will make speaking— / a tomcat sprays the dogwood—blooming.”

Another traditionally-lined poem, “Command of Material Goods,” reveals, in full contralto, the author’s Romantic streak checked by a contemporary sense of poetry and nature. In what could have become an overly miraculous moment, the speaker lies in a meadow with her body covered in birdseed. The birds never arrive as hoped for, and finally, the speaker’s shoes speak, “Stand up now please / you joyful, joyful thing.”

Ahsahta Press should be applauded for the classy production job that includes a minimalist but effective cover, translucent endpaper, slate gray section dividers, and handsome type selections, although the “[continued]” at the bottom of some two-page poems but strangely not others is a mistake. As far as the collection itself, winner of the 2006 Sawtooth Poetry Prize, the strongest poems are heaped in the second half, and at seventy-five pages, it could have been trimmed or at least rearranged a bit. But overall, Ackerson-Kiely and Ahsahta deliver a very worth-while read and companion for your own infinite and powerful loneliness.

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