15 August 2009

Three Vanities by Lori Desrosiers

Three Vanities Poems by Lori Desrosiers Pudding House Press, Chapbook Series 32 Pages, $10 Reviewed by Emily Scudder I read poetry for different reasons: to relate, to be exposed, to widen my range. Recently I have been drawn to quieter, more modest chapbooks, the collections that lack shiny covers or clever titles, but instead seem mature, almost like they like themselves, if a chapbook could. Lori Desrosiers’ "Three Vanities" is such a chapbook. It arrived in the Fiddler Crab post office box with a simple stapled cover and nearly complete lack of color, yet the exquisite cover line drawing (by F.S. Praze, 1904) of a woman, dignified, fully clothed, with her eyes closed and leaning on a straight back chair was anything but dull. I wondered who is this closed-eyed woman? Is she tired? Content? She could be either 20 or 40 years old. She looks old-fashioned, yet modern too. And she is beautiful, almost handsome. No doubt Desrosiers’ poems would tell her story, or of a woman like her, like so many. In "Three Vanities," Lori Desrosiers, not surprisingly, tells 3 stories in 26 poems: of her grandmother Beila, her mother Blanche, and herself. Desrosiers’ nameless daughters are present as well. However, it is the one story, universal, of generations of women circling each other, repeating patterns, that dominates the collection. From the poem “Little Toes,” the beginning and end stanzas: I don’t remember/my grandmother’s feet/but my mother says/her little toe was crooked, cuddling her fourth toe/just like my mother’s, /just like mine. My mother chose/to wear pointy shoes/which disfigured her toes,/my daughters also prefer fashionable heels./At the end of the day/they rub their crooked little toes. The Beila poems, chronicling the grandmother’s experiences as an immigrant from Russia at the turn of the century, use well the concise line, and are some of the strongest. Desrosiers does at times veer slightly toward the sentimental, yet, without question, the overall tender honesty of these family portraits wins out. From the poem “Red Lipstick:” She didn’t tell/until her last week:/she was ten years older/than my grandfather,/in fact, had been lying/for fifty years. Desrosiers' consistantly direct tone, coupled with historical and geographical references, such as to the Triangle Waist Factory Fire in 1911 or the Ukraine's river long ago, grounds the collection, and further enhances the chronological and familial thread. I always ask myself when reading or reviewing a poem, “Is the poem for the ear or the eye?” "Three Vanities" is a visual triptych that also makes for excellent performance poetry. In fact, to not read these poems aloud is to miss their energy, intonation, and how Desrosiers’ numerous musical allusions resonate in full voice. I would like to hear the author read them herself, but as a substitute, I recommend using your own voice. You will not be disappointed.