Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Review: was chicken trax amid sparrows tread by bree

As poets, it's important to remember that what we do is primarily music. Way back when we were strumming lyres, that which was poetry was that which was song. Bree knows this, as evidenced in her book was chicken trax amid sparrows tread. While it may not be sauntered iambs or rushed and tumbled trochees, bree has captured on the page an oracular musicality that, when it's on, works.

This is not to write that every poem in this book works. Some are a bit personal, a bit silly, or a bit too much observation for me. "The Selected Meanings of Charge," for example, plays out more like a verbal exercise than a poem. Politics are hinted at, but not to the depth of a piece like "If We Are All In This Together," which contains lines like

"if we're in this together, then we too fought with
our friend on lines where war is like pudding,
softening wax paper as it cools either side,
also like lava, thick and red hot as friendship."

This book is three sections: the first, poems; the second, a poetic memoir; and the third, poetry correlating with the memoir. The poetry of the first part is rough going. Some of the pieces work, some don't. The memoir, however, really grounds the book. Bree takes her reader on a dual journey through a bout with the realities of modern medical practices as well as through an honest childhood. Neither road is idealized, nor is it demonized, the the reader is left with a bracing breath of reality. Parts of the story are funny, parts are sad, many are direct and uncomfortable, yanking the reader out of their day-to-day affairs and deep into the personal life of the author. All the while, Bree keeps up her musicality. The story reads well, and I can only imagine what it would sound like aloud. The rhythm of the speech patterns comes through steady and rollicking, and the tale never drops or lets the reader off.

The accompanying poems in the third section work well with the tale, often forcing the reader to return to the story and reread sections in rememberance. Something like "Bacteria and the Moon," works well on its own, but really echoes parts of the story:

Bacteria grows best when left alone
with no breath
in a dark, closed home.

The moon wants not a container,
but a vast darkness.

The monk needs vastness alone.

Vastness of soul,
vastness of breath,
light and dark become one.

The monk breathes to find his peace.

Then he can watch the moon more thankfully.

Bacteria may know much about peace,
but can't share any with monk
or with moon
for he lives all alone in a closed off room.

The monk feels lucky,
for if he ever loses peace
he has only to breathe vastly,
or look to the moon.

Knowing, post-story, that the bacteria was growing in her sinus and causing migraines really adds to Bree's poem, and causes the reader to circle between the two, layering the two over and over in their mind.

Bree's poems can be rough around the edges, both in terms of content and syntax. Anyone seeking perfect grammar or poignancy at every step should probably not stop here. At times she is coy, silly, even secretive. However, absolute understanding is not the point of this book. What Bree does is captures the rhythms of speech and music, and fuses them into a language all her own. Many of the poems in this book simply pour over the reader, repeatedly drenching them in their song until the reader is breathless, all but drowned.


Pressin On said...

thanks for reviewing this, Josh. uncanny that Hugh Fox also included the whole of 'Bacteria' in his review. this is how we learn.

you can hear parts of it read aloud at Mac's April 29. with Vladimir and more.

John B. Burroughs said...

I am very happy to see this reviewed on ClevelandPoetics! Bree's book is brilliant! I thought so the first time I read it and was even more convinced the second time. I remember Bree once saying in a review of Charles Pott's Valga Krusa that Potts' book "Belongs on the shelf with Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test & and On the Road." I put her was chicken trax amid sparrows tread on the same shelf.

Looking forward to her reading at Mac's....

John B. Burroughs said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John B. Burroughs said...

I meant Potts' - not Pott's ;)

The Crisis Chronicles Online Library is privileged to include two poems from was chicken trax amid sparrows tread: "We Are All In This Together" and "Think Fondly of Each Other." Stop by for a preview, then please buy her book!

J.E. Stanley said...

Short Version:
Buy this book. Bree Rocks!!

Slightly Longer Version:

By Words Alone
((for Bree))


electric syntax.

of words


on the page.

I drink
too deep,
too fast,

swept away in jazz rapids,
whirlpool syllables in swirling BiRdcAkE blue
so "very sharp
and midnight" deep.

by words alone.

(from the deep cleveland junkmail oracle)

John B. Burroughs said...

I love your poem, J.E., and know the feeling!


The poet doesn't invent. He listens. ~Jean Cocteau