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Kyrie: Poems Paperback – September 17, 1996
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From Publishers Weekly
Kyrie eleison-Lord have mercy. In this book-length sequence Voigt (Two Trees) develops a portrait in mosaic of the 1918-1919 influenza epidemic, set against the backdrop of WWI. Seldom have panic and despair been depicted so lyrically. A young schoolteacher and her fiance, a soldier, are the principal speakers in these loosely structured sonnets; in the teacher's voice, Voigt finds a form to embody compassion driven out by fear. Associations are carried through powerful imagery. Early in the book, when her sister dreams of dead animals with human faces, the teacher assumes her fiance has been injured: "I didn't know/it was us she saw in the bloody trenches." Voigt uses several voices, most not precisely identified; readers become major players, joining or separating the speakers at will. Modern poets as diverse as John Berryman and Ted Berrigan have explored the sonnet form, but these mostly expanded verses add new dimensions.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
[M]ajestic. . . . Voigt inhabits, rather than simply 'tells, ' the story of this great, but largely neglected epilogue to the Great War.
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Top Customer Reviews
That said, included in the volume are some very strong individual poems that I was drawn to, but to take a single poem from this cycle is to take it out of context and alienate it from the rest of its sisters in the story.
As a poet and a writer, I have to applaud these individual poems that stand out, and give Voigt the credit for doing as well as she did within the limitations that she set for herself in the designing of the book. She uses a subverted sonnet form in cycles to try to unfold a story that was almost universal at the time, and now almost commonly forgotten. The problem I have with this is that she is trying to bring too many "characters" into the fold. The poem is often the most intimate and all-inclusive written medium. By bringing your writing close to you, it speaks to your own experience, but the good poem will also speak top the world at large. To do this, the writer needs to speak in more general terms, and with wider themes. (I.e. love, death, relationships with God, & ECT.) Voight is trying to reach in on these themes, but the experience of the pandemic was not hers, and it comes across as false with this knowledge.
Other poems deal with marriage and piano-playing, as well as hogs and chickens. Voigt is truly a master of the narrative poem; these untraditional, free-verse sonnets are musical and wry. What other contemporary poet can riff on hogs "Hogs aren't pretty but they're smart,/ and clean as you let them be" AND write such good metaphors: "We rode the mule to lessons, birds on a branch--/you know what it means to have your own piano?"
Voigt's illustration of a lesser-known chapter of American history is profoundly written, and her characters are inviting. Any reader will enjoy Kyrie.