Free Verse: Notes To The Beloved By Matthew Dickman | March 22nd, 2012 09:00 am Tin House Magazine
Poetry is not real.
That is, poetry is not memoir, not journalism, not the loops and spilled ink that make up a passage in an old, leather bound diary.
Image, simile, metaphor, certainly line breaks, do not exist in the physical world. Having an orgasm is not a simile for the ecstatic preservation of the soul; it's a chemical/physical (albeit awesome) reaction in your body. A father who puts cigarettes out on his son's arm is not a metaphor examining the violent contract between men; it's an action that s happening. There are no line breaks influencing meaning between a man and a woman that desperately wants to kiss each other but can't; it s just a bummer. But it is through image, simile, and metaphor that we understand, feel, and examine the physical world. In fact, it s through poets like Michelle Bitting that we get to experience this understanding, face this physical drama, and examine our own place at the table of human bodies, most intensely.
Michelle Bitting's award winning book, Notes to The Beloved; (Sacramento Poetry Center Press, 2011) is full of the physical world, illuminated by a dynamic narrative sensibility, a vision of down-to-earth love, an active yearning to understand the world, and plenty of kick ass images, metaphors, and similes:
You make a matchstick of your finger, dunk the tip in Bombshell Red. Then your lips are two flickers, in the shadows of your ears, smoldering flowers. You draw a smoky line between lid and lash and dash out
(from the poem Washed in Flame)
After reading this book not only did I understand the physical world in a more intimate and immediate way but I felt more a part of it. And what's more I wanted desperately to be the beloved, the other that an artist reaches for. Isn't this what we want from poetry? At least, isn't it one of the great desired experiences? To be turned around, made newer, have been blown up, by a collection of poems?
To be like Johann Sebastian/on the banks of the Rhine, letting notes fill the rivers/of his hands, then turning back/to compose the world,/map the road/aright with song, so/we could keep time/like this, getting high.? --Tin House Magazine
Bitting (Good Friday Kiss, 2008, etc.) returns with earthy, adventurous and existential free verse.
Bitting is the rare poet who clearly understands that sublimity is never more than one overwrought image away from absurdity. Though clearly capable of the sublime, she is careful to counterbalance the sacred with the profane and the transcendent with the commonplace in crafting what is, on the whole, a forcefully well-proportioned collection. In "Mammary," for instance, narrator and reader are transported by a chain of associations from the highway sights outside the narrator's car to visions of her friend's body as she undergoes a mastectomy. What begins as psychological free association grows increasingly mystical (and worshipful) as the narrator evokes Promethean suffering - "I imagine birds and flight / as the elliptical sweep of sharpness / cuts the pale sky of your chest, / steel beaks of surgical tools / carving out the flesh cream, / making smoke of tumor meat" - before resurrecting her friend's breasts as "two blond angels, / flying out / beyond the moon's milky scar" to "spread their innocence." As counterweight to such moments of profound pathos, Bitting demystifies some of life's most hallowed experiences, such as in "Birth," a darkly humorous portrayal of childbirth as a telescoping series of indignities in which a Demerol-injected mother on "a Jimi Hendrix acid trip" greets "her baby's head galumphing / through the ravaged pit" with "a sphincter blast of feces." Between these extremes, this collection covers a lot of ground - music, death, sex, family, autism, suicide, aging, food - but it always does so from the perspective of a thoroughly embodied narrator. There is a comfortable, even epicurean, egocentrism to Bitting's narrators that insists on the primacy of the sensual. In this way, and in the way her narrators respond to mortality by burrowing even further into their own skins, Bitting proves herself a sister poet to Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sheryl St. Germain. Yet even with her range, lighter poems like "His Hat," a comic come-on to Johnny Depp, sometimes feel like filler.
Not a perfect collection but it comes close. --kirkus Book Reviews