Writers often speak of how they evolve as writers, but they don’t often note how they change as readers. Chapbooks have been a huge change for me as a reader. I somehow didn’t know of their existence until about 2006. Now, that I have found chapbooks, I am making up for lost time by buying them left and right. How many great collections have I missed? In the three that I most recently read, the words BODY and DANGER kept resonating with me. I decided I wanted to write a review/essay about these three very different, yet connected (at least for me) mini-books of poetry.
The first chapbook I spent some quality time with was, Inside Bone There’s Always Marrow (Maverick Duck Press, 2009) by Rachel Mallino. Mallino is one of the editors of Tilt Press which is also a chapbook publisher. Her chapbook is fearless. The poems follow a chronology of the body and the life of the speaker. The collection starts with “Aeronautics” which transverses the tragedy and danger of the body from the toes of tourists who do not know “salt makes straw of hair” to the speaker’s grandmother who was crying that day “not because cancer blew up in her mouth, / but because I had witnessed how things fall apart.” Mallino is addressing the Challenger explosion in this poem but does so with such fresh and personal language that I see that event in a new light. This collection is filled with the raw material of the body and its life from “Knuckle-Bone” to the very sexy “Secret Meeting at the Earth’s Edge.” I look forward to seeing a full length collection from Mallino.
Next, I had picked up a copy of Lessons in Disaster, the 2008 winner of the South Carolina Poetry Initiative Chapbook Prize by Brittney Blaskowitz Prichard (Stepping Stones Press, 2009). Blaskowitz Prichard is an English teacher at several community colleges in the greater Charlotte, NC area. The title of her chapbook, of course, invites the notion of danger and the simple, yet excellent cover reinforces caution. The cover makes me think of renewing your driver’s license, when you have to go back and remember the actual technical names for the signs on the road. Here the signs could be CAUTION and DANGER: PAPER CUT. The cover art seems to wink at you, as do these poems. There are two poems in the collection that deal directly with the title “Lessons in Disaster” and “More Lessons in Disaster.” In the latter, the sense of danger in the world and the body, as well as the humor in it all is well documented with lines such as “Two: You fall into the swimming pool while no one is looking”, “Eight: All your hair is cut off; you’re a dark-eyed albino” and “Twenty-one: You lose your voice, but no one is listening.” Lessons in Disaster is smart and funny. It teaches you to look around you and to not take it all so seriously.
The third chapbook I was lucky enough to finish my most recent chapbook reading frenzy with was Stroking David’s Leg (FootHills Publishing, 2009) by Ellaraine Lockie. Of course, the body is right there in the title, but the body in these poems goes on a very different journey from the other two chapbooks or from really any book I have read in a while. The speaker of these poems is literally traveling. On the back of the book where the bio appears is a copy of the author’s own passport which is a fun touch. It is fascinating to watch the speaker evolve as she travels to different countries and confronts the culture and scenery of each new environ. She is often alone and there is a palpable danger to a woman traveling by herself. As the chapbook progresses the poems confront the reality of being an American abroad and how the rest of the world may view our politics and mores. Before the particularly political poems, there are others that do such a terrific job of painting a portrait of a place and a people such as “Third World Wisdom” where the speaker notes “In Bali same-sex affection / is as public as the rice paddies / that layer the landscape” but on the other side “in Bali lovers / are permitted to touch only in private.” I love the use of alliteration throughout this poem and the tactile diction. I now want to writer my own travelogue of poems because I enjoyed this collection so much. When Lockie isn’t traveling or writing poems she is teaching in schools and community poetry workshops.
I love making connections between seemingly disparate things when I write, but I find an even greater joy when I do so with what I am reading. These three chapbooks were written by very different women, but they all scream out in female voices that want to be heard, not because they are women but because they have something of worth to say. I hope you will pick up one or all of these chapbooks, your Id will be very happy with you.