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Delicate Machinery Suspended: Poems Paperback – June 21, 2011
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To love well is to offer one's full attention. To serve others is often a matter of drawing their attention to the beauties--broken, wounded, suggestive, profound--that visit us endlessly. Ann Overstreet loves well, and she serves well; she is the witness of the dawn, and of our desired awakening. -- Scott Cairns, author of Compass of Affection
If you love poetry, you recognize the magic of words that sift the world into its particulates. Anne Overstreet employs the skilled chemistry that swells the words back into realities so startling and new that no object or person remains unchanged. --Luci Shaw, author of Harvesting Fog
These poems shimmer with gossamer lightness but also possess the strength and sinews of hard-won wisdom and what Henry James called felt life. -- Gregory Wolfe, Editor at Image Journal and author of Beauty Will Save the World
"I look up to take it in," Anne Overstreet writes, and so she does: Dead moths "go to dust / on the windowsill, a wing fading / to a translucent brown sail, prepared / around the absence of body." She takes it all in, and gives it back to us. -- John Wilson, Editor at Books and Culture
These are reverent poems--elegantly carved, and careful; they are dedications to the interchangeable spirit of leaf, blood, mud, and bone. Each page is a sensual pleasure. --Nicole Hardy, author of This Blonde and the forthcoming memoir Fallen
About the Author
Anne M. Doe Overstreet is a poet and editor. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Asheville Poetry Review, Nimrod International Journal of Prose and Poetry, DMQ Review, and Cranky, among others. She and her husband, novelist and film critic Jeffrey Overstreet, reside in Shoreline, Washington. You can find her online at email@example.com and on Facebook at AnneDoeOverstreet.
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And it is the words that will ultimately convince you of the beauty in this poetry-- not my words, but Anne's. Flowers don't bloom in these poems; instead, "Lavender along the sidewalk knots/and unknots its fragrance." A young man doesn't just look at a young woman; he sees that "Her back is to him, spine budding a path/beneath a sweater the color of cantaloupe." A fisherman doesn't simply cast his line; rather, "the wing of his hand is the last thing to go." A sleepless night isn't filled with tossing and turning, so much as it is given to noticing, "the street sweeper/alone in her bright machine, tracing the bones of the city."
If there is a tension inherent in my love for these words, so be it. I do.
As might be expected in the work of a poet who makes her home in the wet Pacific Northwest, water, especially in the form of rain, is a motif in many poems: in "Dog Night", with its "rush, a roar, / hard to tell the river from the rain"; in "The Sun Raises Its Axe", in which "a pale rain / returning for another listless winter day / dulls the edge which / glances off the wrist / of an idle woman". We see in "Domestic" how "[t]he water follows your feet, sea graves // springing up in your footsteps, leaving no path / secret" and the ocean, its voice "cold", "does not call on you to witness what it knows", instead "dying / on a foreign shore in a language you would not recognize." Elsewhere, as in "Surviving the Open Heart", we hear how a woman "will sink beneath the water of the pool / into a silence as blue as the heart when it stops." Water -- how it sounds, what it looks like, where it goes, what it does -- figures also in such poems as "Prelude to a Drowning", "How Water Folds Over", "If It Doesn't Rain Soon", "Whalefall", and "Late Night in Neon".
Overstreet is a vivid visualist who, in the words of Galway Kinnell, is adept at "making something physical out of words":
[. . .] You lean out
over the swell, caught by blue distance, and when
the cold finds its way onto the deck, plunder a pocket
for an orange and break the body into crescent-shaped
pieces brought in a wooden cage over the pass
from their God-hung green night. Teeth tear membrane
as the coastline recedes [. . . .]
~ from "North on the Illahee Ferry"
[. . .] The narrator has told us what to expect:
a whale carcass has come to rest on an ocean shelf,
an extended feast for the cusk eel and hadal snailfish.
[. . .] the skeleton, a keeled-over ship-frame
that the current sucks and strokes [. . . .]
~ from "Whalefall"
She also is capable of leaving us moved by the profoundly felt and "larger word" she leaves on the page:
If in the detonation of seed, a dandelion,
before it fathers a lawn of sun-headed children,
if at a gesture of wind or the puckered
wish of a girl it undoes itself, then we
in our turn can perhaps be forgiven
a moment of abandon before we part.
And if the pricking berry cane begins to bow
just as it reaches an excess of fruit,
after stretching indiscriminately up the fence
in devotion to the source of light, should it
be possible to remain mute before need,
desire spiraling and seeking?
If air in its extremity visibly ascends
off the hot hood of a blue Ford, if a tat
of flies spins into ecstasy in a draft
from the open window, then the tongue
curls to the mouth's bruised roof,
the body rises also on knees and an elbow.
~ "The Logic of Prayer Rising"
Overstreet's collection number 58 attentively crafted poems.
If you're poet Anne Overstreet, you do these things, and you create "Delicate Machinery Suspended: Poems," poetry about a life observed, but also about the life to come. And it is a beautiful collection indeed.
Consider the sorting of a deceased relative's household, from "Day of the Dead:"
I leave my husband there in Maricopa at one with its bank,
one diner, one gas station, to sort through the almost empty
house that I can't bear to face. We'll take what we can use
and forsake the hollow egg collection, a leather glove that
needed a running stitch to close a rent. There's a lacquered box
one of her nieces made, quite ugly, mouth framed by stiffened
Sargent series brushes (No. 8). A mobile of red-crested cranes
eddies and tinks like a quartet of tuneless pianos. Soon we'll be
six states away from where we last broke bread with her...
Is this what life comes down to, the poet seems to ask: an almost empty house, a hollow egg collection, an ugly lacquered box and a mobile? In the second part of the poem, the poet escapes into nature but doesn't find the needed contrast:
Down the road a few miles I pull off and pace the trickle
they call a river around here, fading into the ground
in posts like train song. In the language of leaving
there is no returning migration of snow geese,
the peregrination of a red hawk turns
only clockwise, and marigolds come into their own
only on the day of the dead; there is no other color like theirs.
My eye thinks chromium yellow. But, perhaps not.
In the grebe's nest among the river-reed bower, in the shroud
of the snake skin tossed to the side like a T-short at bedtime,
the abandoned speak their half-shaped language,
the life gone out of them as it always does.
The scene shifts, but the reality, in all of its intricate detail, remains startlingly similar. The empty house with its remnants of a life lived, and the "trickle they call a river around here" both suggest much about our mortality. Overstreet observes with the camera's eye, capturing detail and nuance like filmmaking close-ups, a technique she uses in poems like "If It Doesn't Rain Soon" as well, where her eye shifts from a man walking along a street to traffic passing a lounge and a video store, a woman sitting in a lawn chair, a snapshot of activity at a fire station, and a neighbor sitting at a kitchen table, and through each scene the suggestion of heat, humidity and needed rain. It's an arresting approach, this camera eye moving quickly, capturing the sense of what this moment is like, assimilating and understanding.
This close and careful observation can be seen throughout the volume's poems. Here is the description of a "Rental," (which took me back almost four decades to my first apartment in an old building):
Dust sifts through the floorboard
gaps, settles along a lintel
that has begun to pull back
from the doorway. Everything
that could be done on the cheap,
by hand, is letting go,
having done enough and more.
Old glass warps and blurs the street
into a torrent of chrome. We've learned
to listen to what the stairs say,
for water in the walls, for mice.
This house eases and groans
under a roof that keeps the two of us,
the cat, and a view of the cedar
flexing and stretching in the wind
for as long as its roots hold.
We can afford agreement
of nail and plaster and wood
to hold, for now, together.
This is a home in an old building, of course, but it is also more -it is a life, a family and relationships, holding together by agreement and observation. Here, as in many of Overstreet's poems, one also finds a subtle affection and even gratitude for the people who have helped create this life the poet knows.
The poems can be simultaneously playful and serious, as when they do a slight retelling of the "Little Red Riding Hood" fairy tale, in "Sleeping in Grandmother Wolfe's House" and "Red #9." You smile as you read them, and then the smile gives way to serious consideration. Overstreet is not simply retelling a fairy tale; she is considering what fairy tales mean in dream-like renderings.
This same playful-yet-serious sense of life is seen in one of the most beautiful poems of the collection, "Soufflé," which begins as a description of the preparation of a soufflé but becomes an incredible love poem.
This collection, Overstreet's first, displays a command of language, style and content that is deeply affecting. You are watching a series of scenes filmed with the eye of an artist. And what she paints in "Delicate Machinery Suspended" of her life observed is a beautiful and wondrous thing.