15 June 2009

2 from Cherry Pie Press

A Stranger Here Myself by Niki Nymark Cherry Pie Press, 2008 40 pages, $10 Kiss Me Cold by Donna Biffar Cherry Pie Press, 2006 29 pages, $10 Reviewed by Mary Ellen Geer Some poetry collections are expansive, taking on big topics and (if they succeed) giving the reader new insights into universal themes like love and death. Other collections are sharply focused on a single theme or time or place, giving the reader access into a particular experience that might be new or unfamiliar. A Stranger Here Myself by Niki Nymark belongs to the first category; her poems address the fullness of life with wisdom and humor. Although the topics are big--aging, love as we get older, family, death--her voice is direct and sympathetic; her lines are short but full of insight. In writing about a pregnant woman, a relative, so poor that she has to walk to the hospital when in labor, she writes: “A family story,/ I still carry the weight of it.” In the poem “A Daughter’s Kaddish” she writes memorably about her mother after a stroke, with alternating stanzas that contrast the mother now, in the hospital, weak and unable to remember, with the mother of her childhood, who was “tall as a sycamore,” a powerful swimmer, and “knew a million songs.” In a moving prose poem near the end of the book, “The Report of My Death,” Nymark writes about the speaker’s discovery of her own death by reading her obituary in the newspaper; her trip to the funeral home to point out that she is not dead; her gradual acceptance of the idea and settling into the casket, which is “every bit as comfortable as it looked”; her children showing up, talking about how wonderful her funeral will be, and giving her books and a flashlight to keep her company in the casket. It’s a warm and human account of how the unacceptable--the idea of our own death--might come to seem something that we can after all accept. The 24 poems in Donna Biffar’s collection belong to the second category: every poem is about a married woman’s affair with a lover, also married (though in the midst of a “lingering divorce”). This book is very unified in subject and tone, almost obsessively focused on the closed world of these two lovers, but the poet’s interesting language and images keep the poems from feeling repetitious. Biffar uses the sharp language of the flesh, metaphors of food and eating and appetite, and it keeps us reading. She contrasts the softness of her domestic life with husband and children (“my peach-cheeked children,/ my every day apple husband,” to the sharpness of her lover, “all muscle and sweat and bone.” The poem’s titles reflect these images of food-- “Breakfast,” “Low Carb Love Poem,” “Other Fruit,” “Milk Sex”--and there are several sonnets, a form that’s well suited to this closed world of the love affair. There’s a nervous, hungry, sharp quality to almost every poem: “our jittered caffeine sex among the trees”; “love/ may be a long walk. The arm of the pine/ is whittled to a dangerous point./A stake through the heart.” We believe this poet’s voice because she is unsentimental, unsparing, and direct. Although an affair between married lovers has been written about many times in poetry and fiction, these poems give us a new look at the situation--there are no clich├ęs, only these bright, physical, direct, sharp images. These two chapbooks are in Cherry Pie Press’s Midwest Women Poets Series, and both are well worth reading.