Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the short story collection Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). Dew is also a regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books. His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Memories and mourning shade the pieces collected here—some designed explicitly for performance; in multiple voices, for instance, layered. Voices speak of the experience of being a mother, a wife, a child of parents now dead. The testimonial impulse guides this collection, though sometimes it guides askew, risking a sentimentalization, I feel, of the Holocaust in particular (“You are not a criminal,” the poet writes of a child victim of the camps, as if there were any doubt about such a heinous slander) and victimization in general, aestheticizing it while simultaneously reducing it from specific to vague. The coffee served in the death camps is mentioned, but we get no taste of it—it is a mere trope, accessible as a kind of superlative, which makes it also a kind of cartoon. This slant finds echo in a turn toward treacle with certain last lines, the poet ruining the cake with an excess of frosting, a too-tidy summation that defuses the emotional power of the poem to which it is rudely affixed. “I remember being 26,” is, like the line to the dead girl about not being a criminal, at best, a restatement of the obvious; at worst, however, it wrecks the rhythm of the poem (in this case a consideration of violent sex, already obviously a memory of some kind, invented or real, and spoken by a narrative voice who has no need to gum things up with that extra line of commentary).
Not that Edwards can’t capture emotion, pitch-perfect, at points. There is the visceral, immediate pain of a child’s fall in one poem, for instance, where, as we read, we feel that double agony of the injury and being witness to it, trapped in that horrible too-slow world of watching a child get hurt, unable to prevent, to erase the event. Such moments, along with flavorful musings about “the moon’s placement” or a recollection of working through Kama Sutra poses in an “October, ardent and mature / in the rain,” are rewards in an uneven book.
Official Theresa Senato Edwards Web Site
Official Sibling Rivalry Press Web Site