I've had a copy of this book for years. Bought one after hearing Mehigan read at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books almost ten years ago. Mehigan's poems are primarily formal poems with rhymes. They're more narrative than confessional. I liked this about the book. Although I never felt I got to know Mehigan in a thread through all the poems, the narratives created unique characters. Unfortunately, formal poems sometimes just don't gel properly. Striving to meet the demands of the form, the resulting lines suffer from vagueness. And although most of his poems exhibit impressive technical skill, the poems often lack passion. A good sample of vagueness can be seen in this couplet from "If Ye Find My Beloved..."
"He touched his wife's stiff arm and eyed her back
the way a child confronts an almanac."
There were poems I liked. In "Past Bedtime" the playful rhymes serve the children's point of view with whimsy. I enjoyed the sonnet "The Tyrant" which read almost like form perfected. In the poems "Progress" and "The Story of the Week" we see vagueness actually serving the pieces. And the title poem is fascinating on each re-read. Mehigan has a strong command of his forms, complex sentence arrangements and unique narratives; I would just prefer his poems be less studied.
Tina Pisco is another poet in command of her rhythms, sentence structures and building dramatic movement within her poems. I was intrigued by her book's section titles: Woman, Lover, Thinker, Writer, all which create a kind of mathematical equation out of "She be woman, she be lover, she be thinker..." I also liked coming across Irishisms in her poems like Y-front (instead of V-neck) and smallies (for kiddies). Pisco has a sure sense of purpose about each poem as well. She always gets somewhere.
"Photograph" starts the book out strong and is one of the best poems in the set. I loved the experimental "DOGFOODCATFOOD" and the grrl power in "Contradictory Expectations." I also enjoyed the musical momentum of "Artists' Exemption."
What I would like to see more in her next book of poems is more specificity of word choice (show v. tell). I was missing the juicy exacting word in many places. In revisions, she could improve upon the generalities of phrases like "take me in your arms," "bed of roses," "lived and loved hard," "with the best of them." These types of cliches also hampered my reading of her characters in these poems. Her husband comes across as simply the generic husband. I had no sense of who he was with any specificity (body or heart).
For instance, there are meaty phrases in this poem "From St. Andrews to the St. Alixe"
The watchfulness/of shoes....
...through towns where Weather is a citizen...
...store my words in salt.
Here the specificity is really percolating. The final poem, "For Sharon" is another great example of beautiful particularity.
It's in the silence
between the crow's caw
and the wind's rush
It's in the stillness
between the last heartbeat
and the next breath
that the poet
This is another book I picked up at the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books years ago after hearing Calvorcoressi read on a panel. I like this book: it's gritty, brash, sinewy, concise--just like a boxer. It was a hard one, however, to get into due to some enigmatic and complicated opening poems. But I was drawn in by the sixth or seventh poem.
One theme of the book is salvation. There's a small-town-Americana gothic suffering to an array of religious poems. The best ones are "Jerusalem Baptist Church" (with pressing incantations of I have seen/I have heard/I have counted), "The Chapel, Now Quite Open to God," "Epistle From Her Daughter Yet to Be Consummated Back East," "Prayer After a Long Time Away" ("All those saints/calling to me from the bars"), and "Rosary Catholic Church" ("This is just one day of suffering").
Calvocoressi explores sexuality and salvation unflinchingly in poems like "Elegy Scale" and explores stark sexual imagery and control in poems like "Pleasant Plan Missionary"with lines like:
"Fill her up with so much fire
even Jesus will have to look away."
Violence and religion come together in the poem "Every Person in This Town Loves Football" which begins with the line "Even the nuns come out," weaving sexuality in with
"Who's your daddy?
If he lived in this town he played
the game too and every girl
held his name in her mouth...
He walked down the halls
smelling of Old Spice and chew.
Who could break a boy like that?"
With that final line, you're not sure if Calvocoressi is calling for sympathy or vengeance.
Most of the poems are set in gothic rural settings but "LA Woman" is an interesting exception. There are other interesting odds and ends. "Fence" is a great mournful poem about the death of Matthew Shepard. "Late Twentieth Century in the Form of a Litany" is also an excellently delirious pop-culture rant.
As interesting as the sexual-religious poems are, the heart of the book lies with the boxing poems which expertly explore boxing truths and the redemptive qualities of violence. "Glass Jaw Sonnet," although not boxing-specific, preludes to a taunting anger. "Boxers in the Key of M" introduces these boxing poems with lines like, "Have you/ever gotten hit or thrown against a wall?/ There's a sweetness to it, that moment when/your God would forgive you anything."
In the poem "At Last the New Arriving," it is the glory of fighting:
"It will leave
as a fighter with his eyes swelled shut
who's told he won the whole damn prize...
O it will be beautiful.
Every girl will ask you to dance and the boys
won't kill you for it. Shake your head.
Dance until your bones clatter. What a prize
you are. You lucky sack of stars."
"Training Camp: Deer Lake, PA" is a great long poem. In part iv, the boxer believes he's losing his girl to another man: "take a thousand punches in the gut./Your heart is a field with a thousand gulls/upon it. Let them settle as you work the bag,/as he puts his clothes in your drawers,/as she changes the locks and forwards your mail."
The poem "Box Fugue" ends with the lines "We are all so beautiful/with our face against the mat." "Blues for Ruby Goldstein" is another great poem about the weakling boxer:
"In the gym or
the ring all you gotta do is get up
one more time that the other guy thinks you can.
In these poems, boxing is religion, sexuality and redemption.
say, 'Stop.' They don't want to. That's the truth."