Catherine Chandler's Poetry Blog


In First Things, Briefly Noted, April 2012:

Lines of Flight
by Catherine Chandler
Able Muse Press, 98 pages, $15.95

Catherine Chandler, a deft hand at ballades, pantoums, villanelles, even sapphics, and an uncanny adept at the sonnet (she is the winner of the 2011 Nemerov Award) is a poet whose expert attention appears to apply itself to just about everything on the poetic scale from giant themes to minute structural niceties.

Take, for example, her treatment of nature. Unless a poet is willing to reach for a metaphor of startling brilliance, it is a notoriously difficult subject. Yet in “Caesura,” she manages something memorable. Fall becomes the time
when maples, marigolds and pumpkins vie
for orange jurisdiction
Gutsy, not hysterical or outré, like so many postmodern tropes.

The sensibility at work in Lines of Flight can morph from the brutally honest to the refined and back again for a mordant closing joke. In “Fatuity,” the speaker carries on a silent monologue in the supermarket check-out line, imagining what might best be said to the slim woman she fears is judging her (and finding her wanting) for the junk food piled in the speaker’s cart:
. . . Before I wheeled my week’s supply
of relish out into the parking lot,
I whispered, Lady, this is all I’ve got.
Just so: the justification of “a lifetime lean/and hard” if only the censorious woman had looked on her “with the scanner’s unassuming eye.” Note the puns on “relish” and “unassuming.”

The book is (only slightly) marred by a few pieces in the reflexively tsk-tsking, “America the arrogant empire” mode, like “Ruins” and “Bottom of the Ninth” (where the speaker is “So sure our Yankees couldn’t lose”, get it?). If American literary culture could agree to a one-year moratorium on this Tourette Syndrome-like tendency, Chandler’s brief succumbing would soon be forgotten and forgiven, for her work is fresh and formidable.
”Len Krisak is an American poet.

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