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spacer.gif   FIRST DEGREE: CAROL ANDERSON
Posted by : cj on Sunday, September 18, 2005 - 12:49 PM
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Chicago Poetry Reviews: Click Headlines .
Ordinary
by Carol Anderson
The Puddin'head Press, 2005
Reviewed by C. J. Laity


Well folks, Puddin'head Press has done it again. This fine Chicago small press has had an impressive history over the last two decades of being very selective about who it represents. It's list of authors include John Dickson, Lee Kitzis, Robert Boone (of Young Chicago Authors), the late Lawrence Tyler, among others. It recently released a second printing book by Nina Corwin, and it also made the controversial decision to reprint a book by incarcerated Massachusetts poet Norman Porter. This powerful book of poetry by Chicago native Carol Anderson is a fine addition to that line up of titles.

Ordinary is anything but ordinary. As the opening poem "Crossing Alone" suggests with its huge metaphor, there are often many layers to what we consider ordinary. If you consider ". . . the rich earth / and the sun and the wind and the rain" (from "Ordinary Taste") ordinary, then you are prepared for the complexities hidden within.

With what may be considered by some to be "peace" (not war) poems, Anderson tackles ordinary life with awesome insight, as in her portrait of an abusive relationship. These glimpses at stark reality often transcend the material and breach into the metaphysical:

rushed her to the hospital but they knew
in their skin's souls that the chid she carried
within had left only a form behind . . .


(from "Miscarriage")

Anderson presents her subject matter like flash cards, oftentimes jumping through time and space to relate the universality of a phobia or emotion, such as in the poem "Let Me Not Go There" during which we can nearly feel the wind rush by as we soar from one graveyard to the next.

Some of the poems relate to each other as if they are tiny chapters in a story. Within these connections, Anderson takes the time to examine her own process, providing for us with well crafted symbolism an account of how objects or places trigger for her memories, like ghosts that haunt her, and how these memories in turn inspire the writing of her poetry. In the poem "New Year's Day 2005 Birth Of A Poem" Anderson gives an account of what inspired the next poem, "Victory Candle". The first poem begins in the contemporary. The photo of servicemen at the end of World War II on the cover of a book (the object of inspiration) reminds her of her childhood. This memory in turn inspires her to write a poem, called "Victory Candle". She delivers that poem on the next page, and in it the strength of her voice puts "the object of inspiration" (this time, a giant candle) right before our eyes, so that we feel like we can nearly touch it. The two poems work together to create what great poetry should be all about, the effect (that moment when we can see the candle so clearly) being greater than the sum of its parts (the words describing it).

There are moments when the image of the object simply does not come through as clearly, as in the poem "Gravy Boat", but at other times the object becomes so important that it no longer remains for us an ordinary object, but becomes the epiphany of life itself:

That quilt sheltered us
when it was young, down-fluffed,
bright, and warm.
Still, somehow, it holds
an essence of us,
though one is gone
and the other is whitened,
wrinkled and alone.


(from "A Rose Patterned Quilt")

Ordinary is also filled with personal history, so that by book's end, we feel that we know the author as a person. I believe this "human factor" is important in the Millennial Age of poetry, in such a time where it is possible for computer programs to come up with strings of words that sound a lot like postmodern poetry. There are a few poems dedicated to Anderson's friends of the last decade, but Anderson is at her best with narrative poems such as "Swede and Magee" that address her history and the history of her family. She examines how generations affect each other, how the history of a family can repeat itself, such as in the brooding poem "After an Argument with His Teen" during which a father searching for his son recalls when he himself was a teenage runaway.

I think some of the biggest strengths in this book are the strong endings. There are no Hollywood endings in this book. We soon find out that what Anderson means by "ordinary" is reality, and reality can be brutal, as in the poems about a drive by shooting and its aftermath. The endings to these poems certainly do deliver a wallop.

Cease fire, she prayed
or hoped she did
for she could no longer hear


(from "Cease Fire")

But in the end, this book is a celebration of life. If it has a moral it is that the power of love and faith can overcome all hardships, and that actions speak louder than words. It celebrates life, in all its loves, also in all its tragedies:

I was born in the ordinary way
Will die in some ordinary way
And joy in the ordinary in between.


(from "Rhapsody of and in The Ordinary")

For information about how to purchase Ordinary check out The Puddin'head Press or call 1-888-BOOKS98.

--CJ Laity

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Note: Here is a review of Carol Anderson's new book of poetry, Ordinary.

 
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