Review copy provided by Upper Rubber Boot Books.
The Floodgate series is basically a set of three chapbooks worth of material, joined into a nicely produced trade paperback. They’re putting them out each fall. I love this idea–the poets don’t have to have enough material (or enough focused material or the desire to put it in this format or…vamp until ready) for a dedicated book, but the combination is more satisfying than a stapled-together chapbook volume. Finding poets is always a difficulty–at least I find it so–and so it’s entirely possible that someone will pick up one of these volumes for one poet and discover another, in more depth than a single poem or even a handful flashing by in a magazine can provide.
That said, this particular example was not entirely successful for me, I regret to say. I will try to say why clearly, because I think it was less “these are bad poems” and more “these are not mostly the poems for me.” The Kallie Falandays section, “Tiny Openings Everywhere,” was very much in the personal damage narrative school of poetry, which is one that has to hit just right or I am impatient with it. Her poem “Sometimes We Build Small Ships” did just that–but by its nature, it made me wish that more of her poems did build those ships, that the solar systems built out of our bruises (yes Kallie I have done that yes what a line your truth is my truth) were grander, deeper, or more lapidary, some direction–that they were more solar systems and stayed less with the bruises. I would have loved more small ships! I wish it had been a more frequent sometimes. I know, however, that this type of poetry touches a great many poetry readers deeply. It is not that she is doing a wrong thing or doing it wrongly. It’s that our small ships only pass each other glancingly.
Aaron Jorgensen-Briggs’s “Score for a Burning Bridge” section was the sort of poetry that is like going on a Midwestern road trip with a friend of a friend you will remember kindly but will never ask to do such a trip again. He has an eye for taking cell phone photos of the napkin dispensers in diners, that are perfectly fine photos, but there is no one photo of the napkin dispenser that says to me, oh yes, this is the one, this is where I finally see what he’s getting at with all the napkin dispenser photos in all the diners. (No napkin dispensers were harmed in the writing of these poems.) I’m not trying to be a poet myself here, I am not a poet, I am all prose, I just…I find it frustrating to talk about how and when I do not connect with poetry that is not doing its own things perfectly well, because it makes it difficult to actually get poetry recommendations, and the thing is, I know that there are people who love the diner napkin photos. They are fairly upset photos in this case without a lot of…well.
(Every time I find a poet I like and find the terminology/adjectives applied to them, I am heartened. I think “perhaps I like [group name here]!” And then I go find more, and no. I do not like group name. I like A and B but not C in the same group, and D is right out. Poetry is hard, let’s…read more poetry.)
Judy Jordan’s “Hunger” section was the one that struck deepest for me. It was keenly observed lack, hunger but also bills and illness, and yet not in a way that became a drumbeat of woe. It started with my favorite of the section, “These First Mornings Living in the Greenhouse,” and the entire section had the feel of a latter-day imperial fall in real daily terms–not what we imagine an imperial fall would be like, but what it actually was, dragged out, small, particular, personal ways. The greenhouse in the cold is vivid and rich and particular, and Jordan goes on from there to all the other particulars of a fall (not an autumn, a fall), the bulldozers, the algae-clogged ponds.
I will be interested to see where this series goes next year.