Debris: poems & memoir
by Elizabeth Marino
Moon Journal Press, 2005
Reviewed by C. J. Laity
Some of the most important work coming out of the contemporary American poetry scene comes in the form of chapbooks. Unfortunately, much of this work is overlooked, because most bookstores only carry books with perfect bound spines, won't carry books that are bound with staples. It's a catch 22. Much of the work coming out in perfect bound is boring, academic, mainstream crap, but much of the work coming out in the stapled chapbook form is fresh, unyielding, significant poetry, reflective of what the new era of poetry is all about. Allow me to share with you my thoughts on the work that is otherwise overlooked by "popular" avenues—the chapbook.
This new chapbook, Debris, by Chicago's very own Liz Marino, is a great example of the important work coming out in chapbook form.
Marino is one of the most prolific poets in the city of Chicago. Her work has appeared in After Hours, on Dial a Poem, Chicago!, on the She Laughs audio CD, and even in the Chicago Sun-Times. I would think one of the reason's she has accomplished so much with her work, is because she has an eye for fine detail, especially when it comes to the people she focuses in on:
(so little hips to swing, so she swings 'em just a little)
(from "Take The Socks Out Of Your Bra And Be Patient")
leaning against his '47 Harley
muscular arms across white T-shirt
brass Golden Gloves belt buckle
catches the sun,
(from "My Father's Last Harley")
Some of this crisp detail comes in the form of nostalgia, rooting the work into a specific time period:
. . .And those ubiquitous billboards: the great white shark devours the water-skier, Jack Nicholson models a straightjacket . . .
(from "Rue de Hechette, March 1976")
Some of this detail comes in the form of inventive comparisons:
graceful as any arthritic dancer
(from "The Use Of Force")
and then there are moments during the read when Marino manages to guide us into such a close-up of an action that we can nearly see the gray scales of some grainy noir film, as is accomplished in the poem "Body Language" and also in the following excerpt from the prose piece "The Days Of Bobby's Passing":
My mother got up to make more martinis – reaching for the Tupperware pitcher, slowly crossing the yard, the driveway, up the back steps. The screen door creaked open, wheezed and clicked shut.
Marino's knack for detail works especially well in her short pieces, in which she only allows herself six or seven lines to say what she has to say. These short poems are often breathtaking:
swaying woman with glossy black curls
sweeps her red-lit stoop,
swinging into the shadows
some half-remembered broken-
English blues verse.
In the short poems, as well as in her lengthier poems and prose, Marino is able to capture the beauty of a moment, as is shown in the following three lines from her poem "Performance Poet w/Daughter" (which is dedicated to New Orleans poet Chuck Perkins):
as when the back of his hand turns
palm up, and his daughter's fist
quietly, surely will open in forgiveness.
Much of the setting in this collection is Chicagoland oriented:
There, just east of Ashland
with its potholes, busted Budweiser bottles,
rusted stop signs, and Augie's two-pump gas station.
(from "East of Ashland")
. . .Always, the
perfect red pickup would be just on the next lot,
further north or south on Western Avenue.
(from "My Father's Last Harley")
or even this fantastic Chicago image:
down Devon Avenue.
That's her street and her
anger so hot her red
plastic sandals nearly melt . . .
(from "Foul Fern")
Whether it is through the city streets of Chi-town, across the landscape of some far away place, or down the paths of Marino's own memories, it is always as if Marino is giving us a guided tour:
Open the top drawers – so much
left behind! No one
seems able to just leave without a trace:
(from "Walk-In Closet")
And through this guided tour Marino shows off her own poetic style, which I will call Political Eroticism. This relationship between the political and the erotic, the personal and the societal, makes Marino's work quite unique (though it is also heavily influenced by the work of Carlos Cortez, as is the best poem in this book, "May Day"). An example of this Political Eroticism can be found in the poem "Fire", in which the poem is delivered in three parts, beginning and ending with erotic imagery:
his hands define her thighs, hips.
Come to rest on her warm, bloated belly . . .
We light a candle, say prayers. make love
The overall gist of "Fire" suggests themes of being a political prisoner or being the victim of government torture. This Political Eroticism is most evident in the poem "Through My Best Friend's Window", in which Marino's masterful blend of danger vs. safety, loneliness vs. connectivity, romance vs. loss, comes most evidently with contrasting images such as a pillow vs. a squad car or a burned out house vs. a "cool . . . smooth" sheet.
Despite what subject matter Marino takes on, there seems to be political undertones that come through with her stark language and powerful imagery:
Over a million and a half child lives later, the
use of force is laid down in the sand like
a fine silk ribbon of inevitable possibility
marking it as a new road . . .
(from "The Use Of Force")
These undertones are often very critical of America, as in the poem "Independence Day On Vieques". However, in most cases, there are many levels to this Political Eroticism, and Marino leaves her poetry open for interpretation.
I think Debris is one of the most important collections of poetry I have read in a while, and it belongs in the bookstores and on everyone's bookshelf.
Right now, this chapbook can be found in the bookstores of Northeastern University and Roosevelt University, or by contacting
Moon Journal Press
2015 Woodland Lane
Arlington Heights, IL 60004.
Of course, the best way to purchase a chapbook is directly through the author, so keep your eyes peeled for Marino's next reading, and ask her for a copy.
--C. J. Laity
back to meshing
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Note: Here is a review of Liz Marino's new book, Debris.