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Issue 8: The Lily

Issue 7: Passages

Issue 6: No More Tears

Issue 5: Phoenix

Bob Sward's Writer's Friendship Series

Book Reviews

Need to Know



A quick list to poets featured in this issue:

Valarie Duff

Jim Behrle

Fred Marchant

Jacob Strautmann

Vera Kroms

Henry Israeli

Daniel Gutstein

Joyelle McSweeney

David Dodd Lee

Daniel Bosch

Michael Perrow

Luljeta Lleshanaku

Miklós Radnóti

Nikolai Baitov

Drago Stambuk

Zafer Senocak

Playing Those Mind Games

Louise in Love
by Mary Jo Bang  

39 pages. Small Poetry Press

by Lynne Potts

Louise in Love is the biography of a movie star, told over the course of 54 poems, each able to stand on its own two feet quite apart from the story line. A few of titles provide a hint of what’s to come in terms of the flavor of the language: “What is a Mouth”; “On to the Onslaught: A Millennial Dirge”; “They Were That and Then”. The story is of a woman who falls in love, falls out, attempts suicide, and survives. At the end of the book, she is, I believe, old.

I say “believe” because one cannot be entirely sure in this story what has happened. Actual events are shrouded in the vague and quirky language; jumps in time are not accounted for. The story is told by a third-person narrator who seems to have a somewhat sanguine relation to her topic, but even that is hard to say. The narrator is sympathetic to Louise’s suffering, but she is also a believer in survival. She knows her subject will prevail. In fact, the narrator functions, in many ways, like a Greek chorus, bewailing Louise’s woes, but applauding her endurance.

The following is a description of the use of Bang’s language which, I believe, gives this sustained work its power and beguiling effect. I find the language both original and entirely authentic. That is, while Bang’s writing is “novel” in many respects, it also rings true, without any suggestion of contrivance or strain. The writing appears effortless.

It’s hard to define originality, but perhaps I can illustrate what I mean by quoting a few phrases that strike me thus. Here are three:

    The puky little sun glowing to a glare. Puissance.

    Specters they would be
    rooted eighty-two years in the same spot waiting
    for another and then an offhand remark and one by one… (from “Eclipsed”)

    The dog, they named Lucky
    To Be Alive, and refused to let it be altered. (from “The Dog Bark”)

    Come and kiss the linen scarf where it drapes
    the dresser’s grain.
    See how well it holds what it’s been give?.” (“Louise Sighs, Such a Long Winter, This”)

There is something about the disjoints, the unexpected connections, and the complex ideas expressed in such simple, almost silly phrases that make the language fresh.

The use of sound is equally unanticipated and charming. These poems are all without end rhyme, but riddled with internal rhyme, alliteration, and melody. Again, a few examples must serve to make the point. It is now a matter of waiting/ for the haughty naughty beguilement of warmth. (“She Couldn’t Sing At All, At All) and Today, the temperature had declined/ in the wake of a heat wave. Dawn had been admirably mired (She Loved Falling) and …The port/of turning back to the world with a sense of revulsion./ Progress, Louise said, is a slow evolution. One pads along, plots a great gong, then waits for the next devolution. (“On to the Onslaught: A Little Millennial Dirge”)

The line length and stanzas are varied, with attention to the power of both lulling and surprising the reader. Some poems have a definite form such as “Belle Vue” which possesses ten tercets and a single line in the last stanza. One line in stanza eight has only two words, of light. One line has as many has 16 syllables. On the other hand, “A Cake of Nineteen Slices” is simply a 19 line poem. “Louise” is a prose poem.

The last poem, “They Were That and Then,“ illustrates the particulars of Bang's style.

    They moved into the mind
    your p’s and qu’s, into the light
    that no light brights,
    into the brain’s back of the hand on which is run the movie
    of the moment—now and now, now and then,
    now and when. They moved blindly backwards
    and away from the text that failed to find their eyes.
    They would eventually be weighed
    in the blue comparison pool, unadjectived,
    unmetaphored, unmineraled of earth mire.
    They would be unmanned, unwomanned, unothered.
    Diamond beams rising from steamy beakers, they would rest
    on a metal cart rolling down a clean corridor
    blank in a khaki noon. Empty.
    Nothing. Good for nothink. And feeling
    they had forever been so.
    So unlike the logic of the lamp.

The playfulness of these lines is what is first apparent – the surprise of the minding p’s and qu’s enjambment, the made-up words, the repetitions, the jolting enjambments, the nutty images such as the metal cart rolling down a clean corridor. But all of this nonsense (in a way) carries the reader along easily while the deep truths sink in. By the time we get to that khaki noon, we are ready to face the empty, nothing, no-think of the last few lines. In fact, ready to face the double whammy – that they had forever been so, which is where the whole story leads one. So much chaos, so much passion, so much catastrophe, and yet, at the end, how does it mean?

I close with one more quote – a section from “Here’s a Fine Word: Prettiplease”:

    She wrote down a date
    with an eight at the end. this, she said, means the end
    will occur at a seaside resort, a respectable spa
    where one eats in one’s robe and takes side-by-side baths
    in beds made of ready-mixed mud.

The date that "means the end" sets the ominous stage for what is to follow--a climax characteristically Bangian – unanticipated, vivid, silly, and full of pathos.


Reviewer's Bio Note

    Lynne Potts is a Boston poet who works as a professional writer for publishers, public institutions, and private non-profit agencies. Her poems have appeared in a number of publications including Art Times, Fauquier Poetry Journal, River Oak Review, Del Sol Review, and University of Alabama's new publication Poetry, Memoire, Story.


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