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Gina Myers on Cindy St John

Be the Heat by Cindy St. John, Slash Pine Press, 2011.



Set in desolate locations, near border towns and ghost towns, Cindy St. John’s Be the Heat consists of twenty-four short poems that address survival among a rugged environment. Throughout the collection, certain ideas reappear, from a series of letters addressed to “City,” to a series of “map” poems (“Map of a Border,” “Map that Will Become Your Home,” “Map of Things You Forgot,” and so on) that read as instructions to past experiences. The opening “Dear City” introduces a sense of alienation and dislocation; the speaker relies on another’s words, “it is as if there was a dark fleshy space between us labeled, ‘I am not myself.’” Many of the poems seem to be heading towards destruction, where disappearing into the landscape is a desire but perhaps one that isn’t really supposed to be lived out, as St. John writes in “Map of What Can Cut You”:

    swim/drive your field of vision infinitely
    multiplying the weight of your arms you lived/died

    break the glass

    fade/disappear into the landscape isn’t this
    what you wanted?    

In the title poem, St. John writes, “there are places / we go to keep // from going somewhere else,” and later, “just because there’s a trail / don’t mean you belong here.” The speakers come across as simultaneously tough but damaged. They have lived and have lost loves and are hard drinking. In “Morning,” the speaker says, “I dreamt I beat you / with a big yellow saucepan / and like money / you deserved it,” and the speaker on the very next page in a poem titled after the Sam Cooke song “We’re Having a Party” finds herself crying at the bar but claiming, “just because / I am crying doesn’t mean I’m not having a good time.” The poems fluctuate between this space of confidence/self-assuredness and uneasiness.

The poems are tightly written, mostly in concise couplets and short-lined poems, with the “Dear City” poems written in prose. Even though the poems easily stand on their own, there is a narrative that emerges across the chapbook that, despite wonderfully descriptive language, the reader is not given full access too. For example, we learn someone has died but we do not know the relationship between the speaker and this person, though we can certainly guess at it. However, it isn’t really important that we know anything for sure. The poems come across tight-lipped, which feels emotionally honest for these speakers who are telling us what it’s like now, with hints to what perhaps once was.





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