09 June 2009

What Sound Does It Make by Erin Malone

What Sound Does It Make Poems by Erin Malone Concrete Wolf Poetry Chapbook Series, 2007 Reviewed by Laurie Rosenblatt Concrete Wolf prefers chapbooks with a theme. The thread connecting the poems in Erin Malone’s, “What Sound Does It Make” is motherhood. But it’s not your 1950’s airbrushed TV version—it’s the real thing live from inside Mom’s head. The eponymous poem, in up-close scattered exposures, reveals post-partum despair in un-consoling light. It begins, “There are pieces everywhere, splinters,” and continues its relentless course using abutment, fragmentation, and a mixture of first and third person to enact the speaker’s disconsolate, dislocated, nearly disarticulate state. Assonance and light repetition hold the poem tenuously together in the face of content that is self-flagellating (“My husband scrubs the floors, dishes, fixes/ locks to the cabinets, gates/the stairs & doors. He fixes, fixes—“), helpless (“Would you hurt yourself?”) and horrified; caught out in the lens of its own shatteredness: II Small cracks in the ceiling. If she could rest she’d tilt the chair to watch holes in the overturned bowl of her skull emit their light, move like slow-turning planets. III Would you hurt your baby? IV He’s lighter when he sleeps. The monitor’s eye is red, steady, unblinking. Using form and sense Malone takes us into a broken world. Not afraid—how could she be after that?—to take us to more ordinary places usually kept hidden from others and ourselves though secretly visited, Malone sketches landscapes in which regret, doubt, tenderness, and anger together form a nuanced topography. For instance in “Suspect,” the speaker asks, “Where’s my fill, my plush/ other, illustrated life?/that I tired of/ & traded, willing/ it seems & still/ I would”. Her technique doesn’t work quite as well in, “At the Seams” or “Prehistory,” where it’s difficult to get a fix on what’s going on and what’s at stake. But in poems like “This & Thus Far” and “Spoke,” Malone’s got game. She uses line breaks, shape on the page, and subtle rhyme –even carrying off rhyming couplets in a natural voice— to emphasize or work in counterpoint to content. Again and again she grabs the golden ring of emotional depth and texture. Here’s the beginning of “Pulling Up the Corners,” where Malone effectively catches an ironic internal second voice: --said you don’t love me. He was sitting in a flannel chair, the gray behind him hardly a kind of light. I said secondhand love. Circle secondhand. b/c how could I be first? She takes risks, and though I don’t find the, b/c for “because” ( or in “”This & Thus Far,” the use of , /) overdone or intrusive, all readers may not agree that Malone gets away with her occasional mannered flourishes. Malone gives us multiple voices again in “Black Forest,” where two intertwined voices compete for our attention without ever becoming muddled or indistinct. We emerge from the poem having heard both the inner and outer versions of the story, neither one having told the “truth:” on its own. My favorite poem in this strong collection, “Hush,” begins, I lie and say there are no ghosts when sleep’s stalled current draws him near our bed, hair magnetized, shock on blanket & pajamas in the too-dry air. I could pat him, turn him toward the door, But he has handfuls of language spilling— Owl, moon, hoot--& just then a train loans its lonely sound to the fences of our neighborhood… In this poem, and in the chapbook as a whole, Malone brings all her craft, insight, and feeling together with careful, lovingly objective observations and hard won insights said beautifully.