Monday, July 25, 2011

Monday Muse Reads 'Curses and Wishes'

You won't find florid imagery in Carl Adamshick's Curses and Wishes (Louisiana State University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Walt Whitman Award sponsored by the Academy of American Poets. Adamshick is a poet who strips down language to spin his pictures in few words along short but barbed lines.

Adamshick has a particular talent for striking first lines, hooks that drive you to keep reading to see where he's going to go; to wit:

It could have been a whale's heart
she towed in her wagon.
~ from "Compassion"

The field of her tongue
described ash in the treeline.
~ from "The book of Nelly Sachs"

We took your food and in a few days
you'll see we took your excrement.
~ from "Benevolence"

The poet's juxtapositions  — "I didn't want to give my body to war. / I saw news footage of a fly // in a dead man's mouth." (from "The emptiness") or "She was saying she and her mother picked blackberries / in a morning fog the day she moved away, [. . .] // I told her I had never been to a funeral." (from "Pelican") or "I clear the chessboard of pieces // and find religion" (from "Fluency") — don't allow you to be a half-attentive reader. The poet doesn't shout, though; he disarms with his simplicity and economy of easily flowing language, so much so that you find yourself re-reading the poem you just too quickly finished.

The poet's use of first- and familiar second-person voices gives the poems edge and immediacy, a "you are there" feeling that itself is a poetic hook. His effective use of enjambment leave his lines all the more pointed.

The "curses" pronounced in this collection account not only for what we can see literally — "his body as insects / lived on the continent of his flesh, / lived until he was bone" (from "The emptiness") — but also for what our dreams and "university of memory" ("Arithmetic") feed us to haunt us — "your death / strung [...] as a jewel on a silver chain" (from "Benevolence"); "[...] that chain / we feel every time we walk" (from "War as the cherry blossoms"). Fear, loss, death, grief, want, remembrance — all are here in Adamshick's poems. Being alive is the curse.

And the "wishes"? These are found in some stunningly lovely imagery: "[...] I am veins and breath, the entrance // and exit the world passes through." (from "The emptiness"); "I find my mother / curled in the shell of tradition, the gilded triangles // at her breast bone. I find her lost, // dreaming of light [...]" (from "Fluency"). Or these touching four lines, the entirety of a poem graced with deep feeling:

The broken stile is covered in leaves.
Once I sat there and felt
I was the snow
holding the family's footprints.
~ "The farm"

Adamshick's collection, his first book, numbers 27 poems. The final poem, "Out past the dead end sign", is the longest (13 pages), with its sections divided by a single, simple, initial-capped word: "And". It is a word giving full meaning to our need for connection.


Jeff Baker, "Portland poet Carl Adamshick wins $5,00 Walt Whitman Award", The Oregonian, April 15, 2010

Adamshick has published a chapbook, Backscatter, and poems in such esteemed literary periodicals as Beloit Poetry Journal, Rhino, Mid-American Review, The Missouri Review, Ars Poetica, The Cortland Review, American Poet, and The Harvard Review.


Glynn said...

I've got this one sitting in my "to read" pile. I have to admit I bought it more for LSU Press than what I knew about the poet - so thanks for the great review.

Louise Gallagher said...

There's always something new and enlightening to find here, Maureen!

Thank you.

Joyce Wycoff said...

You sent me scurrying off to read more of his work. Very powerful ... thanks for the introduction.

Anonymous said... midwest boy. interesting.

S. Etole said...

He writes some attention grabbing lines, and you write these reviews so well.