In an earlier post, I congratulated local poet Cat Valente for winning the Rhysling Award this year. My congratulations were not entirely accurate. Valente won for the "Long Poem" category, which means that her poem was over 50 lines long. The winner of the "Short Poem" was F. J. Bergmann, with her poem "Eating Light," previously published in Mythic Delerium. So I was quite eager to read her newest book, Constellation of the Dragonfly out on Plan B Press.
F.J. Bergmann lives in Wisconsin and at fibitz.com. She has no literary academic qualifications, but is kind to those so afflicted. Journals that have published her work include Beloit Poetry Journal, Cannibal, DIAGRAM, Margie, North American Review, nth position, Southern Poetry Review, Unpleasant Event Schedule, Ur-Vox, VOX, and a number of science-fiction journals. Her hairstyle is deceptive. One of her pseudopodia can reach all the way from the bedroom to the refrigerator. Her favorite authors all write speculative fiction. Her previous chapbooks are Sauce Robert (Pavement Saw Press 2003) and Aqua Regia (Parallel Press 2007).
What first grabbed me about the book was the cover illustration. I know you can't judge a book by such things, but it really is a gorgeous cover, and actually mirrors the poems in the book. There are lots of clouds and insect wings, everything with an almost transparent quality. The other thing that grabbed me about the cover was the price of the book. I know F. J. Bergmann has little to do with this, but this chapbook is 13.00. 13.00!!! That's almost the price of Bergmann's other two books combined. This is a stunning book, and obviously of the highest quality printing, but it seems pricey.
However, the poetry is worth the price. At around fifty cents a poem, Bergmann delivers a great deal for the reader's money, and more. Usually, with any book of poems, there are at least one or two that rub me the wrong way as a reader. Either they don't fit with the collection, or seem thrown in simply because they were published in a magazine of import, etc. This is not so with Bergmann; each and every one of these poems is powerfully crafted and strong in both imagery and message.
If I had to choose one word to describe the poems in this book, it would be "ethereal"--each one of these poems seems light, almost delicate, as if the very act of reading them might break them. Still, Bergman is able to use that quality to discuss some heavy topics. My favorite poem of the collection has to be "Volition". I love the way Bergmann never actually discusses her topic directly, but alludes to and hints around it until it actually catches up with the reader at the end:
Hoping to entice things with feathers
we constructed many types of feeders,
the ones the squirrels could climb,
equipped with little remote-control guillotines
and the ones that nothing could climb.
We tried all the commercial varieties of seed
and then began to experiment with our own
mixtures of fern seed, seed money, and dragon's teeth.
When we hit on the right combination
after n(n+1) attempts,
over a winter of sleepless nights,
they began to crystallize out of the frosty air,
to delicately cock their heads and dilate their pupils
and blink rapidly at the pungent fumes
emanating from the bait.
After they had stopped struggling and finally
hung upside down, stunned and somnolent,
we carefully detached their little claws from the line
and inserted them at the beginning of each chapter
in the family Book of shadows,
and when their plumage had compressed
and flattened to transparent thinness
we mounted them on white velvet,
behind bulletproof glass, in silvergilt frames
with a small brass plaque engraved with
a description of what each one had once
intended to become.
This is a very sad, haunting poem, and Bergmann's imagery and subtle avoidance of directness only adds to the ephemeral tone of this piece.
Yes, for a chapbook, it's a bit pricey, but upon reading F. J. Bergmann's Constellation of the Dragonfly, a reader will see that the money was well spent. The poems are stunning. and the book itself is well designed and put together. This is an incredible collection and belongs on any poetry reader's shelf.