V  P  R

Contemporary Poetry and Poetics


Review of Amy Meckler's First Book of Poetry




The voice of these poems is intimate but avoids the emotional 
turbulence of "confessional" poetry.  The narrator inhabits 
the world of the poems without dominating it . . . .

Stillness and light are the words that come to mind when describing Amy Meckler's first book of poetry, What All the Sleeping Is For (winner of the 2002 Defined Providence Poetry Book Competition).  Stillness, because the verses unfold at a measured pace like the natural processes that are Meckler's defining themes: pregnancy, the seasons, lovers' alternating cycles of separation and reconnection.  Light, not in the sense of "light verse" (with its derogatory hint of "lightweight") but a light touch, a technique so unobtrusive that its sophistication may go unappreciated at first sight. 
     The voice of these poems is intimate but avoids the emotional turbulence of "confessional" poetry.  The narrator inhabits the world of the poems without dominating it, telling her own stories and those of friends and family members with the same empathy and clarity of observation. 
     Meckler writes straightforward narrative free verse, sometimes coupled with slant-rhymes and internal assonances that spring out when the poems are read aloud.  For instance, in "Perspectives," the repeated sounds that twine through the poem create a harmony that shows the strength of the lovers' relationship despite arguments and fears of abandonment.  That reassurance is not easy or definitive, but rather a leap of faith that must be periodically reaffirmed.
     Many of these brief poems work as extended metaphors, in which a seemingly prosaic scene is suddenly shown to reflect a highly charged personal truth.  The stakes are far higher than you realized at the beginning, when the poem innocently invited you into the game.  Among the strongest of these are "Bridge Half Gone," "The Thing I Wanted to Say," and "Bad Timing."  The shift occurs so deftly, the emotional trap is sprung so quickly, that the reader looks back bewildered and vulnerable, looking for the hinge on which it turned.  How did we get from a subway ride to a father's love and loss?  From tea-time to seduction?  As Meckler describes it in "Slipping Glimpser":

          The quick flinch, late
          turn of the head. Vapor,
          glint of speck. Sun on frog's
          glassy eye, for example. The moment
          you can't have back. One word
          not heard at the crook of a confession."

     In "Bad Timing," the opening image of a train just missed becomes a symbol of a failed relationship with a lover.  The theme is emphasized by the use of slant-rhyme, which unfortunately stumbles in the penultimate verse: light/fated is stretching the definition of a slant-rhyme, and Jetway/appeared just doesn't sound like one at all.

          I shift from hip to hip awaiting the next train.
          Familiar failure of tin and bone
          how doors slid shut as I approached
          and my arm would not reach

          to part them, fearing amputation.
          You came to mind, the motion
          of your empty track I waited beside,
          dial tone, your new queen bed

          where we made a little noise
          we mistook for chants or vows.
          I knew before you how brittle
          we would grow inside that rattle.

     Similarly, in "Bridge Half Gone," repair work on the Williamsburg Bridge between Brooklyn and Manhattan exposes the fault lines in a relationship.  To her lover, who lives next to the 24-hour din of the construction work, the speaker jests, "You're only in my bed / to get some sleep, aren't you?"  But later lines reveal that it's no joke:

          In my own bed, you push me
          as far away as you can.

          Balled in your pod, you sleep
          as if there is no one
          just outside your walls
          taking herself apart.

     Meckler's technique of pairing scenes is used to powerful effect in "The Next Day," in which the story of a child saved from charging rams by her father and sister segues into a date rape where there was no one to rescue her.  In contrast to the extended description of the rams' onslaught, which has the slow-motion weight of nightmares, the sexual assault is revealed only in staccato sentence fragments: "Backfire beyond the garbage alley beating through / the shut window in my apartment. / First date. I thought I knew him."  Did the earlier incident really happen, or is it a mythic reinterpretation of events too devastating to confront directly?  The poem's opening words, "I think of myself as a little girl," leave both interpretations open.  Overall, this sure-footed first collection is a promising start to Meckler's poetic career.

Meckler, Amy. What All the Sleeping Is For. Fort Montgomery, New York: Defined Providence Press, 2002. ISBN: 0-967-3495-4-0  $12.95

© by Jendi Reiter


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