Monday, March 28, 2011

Monday Muse: Reading 'Applies to Oranges'

Recently I opened a subscription with the nonprofit  Ugly Duckling Presse, Brooklyn, New York, a publisher known for its beautifully designed books. In the first package of new releases that filled my mailbox was  Applies to Oranges, the wonderful debut collection of  Maureen Thorson.

Within this physically small — 5" x 7" — book are 59 untitled, single-stanza poems, each between 12 lines and 15 lines long, and in each one of which the word "orange" appears. From the start, we're in for something out of the ordinary, as the narrator matter-of-factly informs us that:

I'd rather tell you a better story, but
disease and boredom and a bad connection
brought that plan to night. You took off
with the oranges and spiders,
the ending and the plot, and left me
with the Zenith's chrome housing,
the cruise ships in their moorings. . . .
. . . Once you were gone,
there were only these few things left.

Reading the collection straight-through, as I did the first time, underscores how thematically coherent the book is, although each poem holds up well as a stand-alone vignette of an experience of loss, "where indigo / is the color of shadow" and in "the basic plot— / boy meets girl, . . . / something happens. . . ." to make the days "fall apart like tiles".

What is at the heart of this loss is a relationship that seems successful enough — "Brides / came for miles to cut crowns of blossoms / from my orchard's boughs" — until it's not: "now not enough spiders mate here". Communication misfires over and over again, paths diverge, "storms" leave the narrator "pricked" with holes and ready to "put the finishing touches on my handbook / on the mechanics of gloom".  We learn of "pretend servility",  "an infestation no one bothers to name", "promises / that only one of us believed", sorrow that "can harden / into a surface more starched than any collar, / more formal than the pleats of a skirt".

The clues to miscommunication pile up over the course of the poems: in the "music of spirals" of birds that show up often; a voice that stutters; "machines / sending sounds to other machines";  the static that occurs because "the cord's been cut from the phone"; the noise "[w]here the radio plays / different stations, and you have no radio"; the "many scripts / for screaming"; all those words "shaped by blows"; the narrator's pronouncement of having "tried, at least, to resonate" but who finally "shivered until I made you break".

There are a number of recurring motifs or symbols that reinforce the narrative arc: water, which to me functions as means of escaping and of being carried away, also the ebb and flow of relationship, and, perhaps, the purification from purging after crazed emotions have run their course; spiders, which seem to represent the sticky web of relationship, and its dangers; and the ever-present oranges, which Thorson "applies" creatively, in 59 different ways, in each poem. Some others are: ghosts, which carry the weight of absence, memory, the fading away of relationship, and clues that not all has ever been well; light, often tinged blue, sometimes nothing more than an "agonizing flicker", necessary to make the picture that exposes the scene played out on every page. The moon makes a frequent appearance, shedding light on the subject of the poems and also marking the phases of relationship; and a menagerie of other animals appears — bats, frogs, mosquitoes, snakes, and more — all hooks for some aspect of the story, the elements of which the narrator freely rearranges to craft "what sounds convincing".

There are some wonderful moments that arise while reading Applies to Oranges but maybe none is more memorable than the opening of a poem toward the end of the book: "Reader, I married him." I laughed out loud. This is a delightful collection of beautifully written, highly imaginative poems.

The author of several chapbooks, including Twenty Questions for the Druken Sailor (2009), Thorson is also the publisher and editor of the independent poetry press Big Game Books and a book designer. She lives in Washington, D.C.

Here's a short video that Thorson made to promote her book:

Special Limited Edition of Applies to Oranges 

Maureen Thorson's Website and Blog

Maureen Thorson on Twitter

NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month), Founded by Thorson in 2003

Ugly Duck Presse Subscription Information

Go here to read Thorson's excellent interview with Kate Greenstreet.


Louise Gallagher said...

Okay -- so now you've intrigued me too! First Glynn's fantasy fiction author interview. Now this.

wow! Great way to start the week.

Hannah Stephenson said...

This looks like a beautiful collection...I'd like to read it!

Unknown said...

That poem on the video is so musical. And the oranges carried through? So unique! I just love poetry. Such a wild and crazy ride. Thanks for bringing more my way, Maureen.

S. Etole said...

I first read the title as "Apples to Oranges" .... it just kept getting better!