I just read to cleave by Barbara Rockman, University of NM Press (2019). What I like best about Rockman’s poems are their quiet grace, like still-lifes, and her tight lines are scraped of superfluous language. She delights in the sounds of words and their repetition, alliteration and assonance. She packs a lot in a short line with a kind of strong economy of choice.
The quietness can be seen right in the first three poems: "Snow Cave," "Three Peaches on a White Plate" (I saw this one as an O’Keeffian still life and then later in the book found the poem “Letter from Georgia O’Keeffe to Alfred Stieglitz on Seeing His Photograph of Her Hands” which is a familiar construction of Georgia available to any Santa Fe visitor of the Georgia O’Keeffe museum) and "At Rest in the Rain."
There is a Santa Fe type of poet and a lot about this type has to do with the somewhat homogeneous ethnicity, money bracket, age group and interests/obsessions that occur in people who are drawn to Santa Fe, especially white, comfortable baby boomer poets. I happen to like that sort of poetry, (contemplative, spiritual, out-doorsy). As a white, Gen X, New Mexican, I’m not that far from it. But it can be repetitious once you’ve read ten books by Santa Fe poets about the spirit landscape and their travelogues. Rockman stands out for me in this pack. Her poems are pitch perfect and packed with the world in complex sentences. And she does this without seeming too self-obsessed or privileged.
In this book she writes about health, ("Absence of Wind" is a good example), family, childhood, motherhood, marriage, independence and all of those topics as they interrelate.
I really liked some of the experimental pieces, especially around juxtapositions that build connections instead of highlight randomness.
A good example is the poem “News, Sendai, Japan | Beach Walk, Sanibel Island, USA” (a title with a pipe! I love it!) Seemingly parallel poems are laid out vertically down one page so you can be read vertically or horizontally to explore two separate but related worlds.
Another one would be “Post-Laryngoscopy, I Follow News of the Trapped Miners” which was a really satisfying exploration of tunnels.
A good example of her brevity and depth is found in the poem “Afterlife.” In it, she uses the term “things will get serious” usually referred to in dating terms or something early in a relationship. In this instance shes talking about ill health affecting a older marriage and serious takes on a different meaning.
All through this collection Rockman seems to be trying to figure out how it should be said and how to get it all said…
“and what is/said will be all.”