Feign by Kristy Bowen
(New Michigan Press, 2006)
STRANGE BLUE DRESSES
I shall deem this an engagement rather than a review, because it would be difficult for me to articulate the power and sway with which Kristy Bowen’s poems move me in an objective or analytical or critical way. My expressions about her poems emerge sounding rather like poems themselves.
The last few collections by Bowen have made me feel like writing poetry even as I was reading them. Her evocative words and images swell my head with poetry, as if her poems are working upon my very psyche with some kind of subconscious power, causing personal poetic thoughts and ideas to foment and ferment and ripen in my brain. To emerge like lush dreamy wisps and start to spin themselves, weave themselves, practically hurl themselves at the nearest sheet. Her poems evoke such resonant tones for me—tones that are almost akin to visual landscapes. It's difficult to describe, but I suppose I don't have to describe it logically if I don't want to. The kind of poetry that I tend to be drawn to and that tends to draw me in does not function based upon a standard logic. It concocts its own logic that functions on more interior levels. That advances and twists and floats like a strangely possessed blue dress. I think that INDUCIVE OF SUBCONSCIOUS POWER is a wonderful way to describe Kristy Bowen's poetry, at least in terms of its impact upon me.
There are a lot of blue dresses in Bowen's poetry. A lot of blue. A lot of dresses. A lot of birds. A lot of fruit. A lot of household objects and body parts. A lot of buttons and zippers and hooks and other devices for fastening or unfastening. All of these items have unusual power in her poems. Or unusual functions. Or hint at something deeper, moving beyond their ordinary functions into a realm of borderline ominous mystique. Here are a few snippets:
"In one story, she falls open
like a clock, her insides blue
and chaotic, all gears. Wires fashioned
into vowels and finches spilling."
"Harbor something black and lush as licorice
beneath their tongues. Swallow the man
with the hook, the stranger inside the house."
"Some nights even the dolls had teeth"
Most of Bowen's poems are populated by women or by a female presence. Most of these women seem to hold strange feminine powers, dark female knowledge, suspicious and possibly dangerous secrets. Maybe some of these secrets were gleaned in their girlhoods, when the fairy tales of their lives began to deviate from the storybook versions. When they began to realize that perhaps there was quite a fine line between the innocent fairy tale little girl and the cruel fairy tale villainess. Maybe they contained elements of both inside themselves. Maybe it would behoove them to keep their more sinister elements hidden.
And so maybe the houses are not what they seem—maybe the furniture is not what it seems—maybe the blue dresses are not what they seem. Maybe more is hidden in velvet folds and secret compartments and even inside their very bodies. What have they swallowed, but not quite digested? What might they later expel?
The fragrant flowers and pretty fabrics that surround these women seem to be undercut with something sharper. Perhaps this sharpness could be honed into a kind of weapon. Perhaps this sharpness is a kind of sacrifice, like rogue underwire cutting into one's own flesh as she attempts to keep herself neatly contained. Perhaps this sharp sacrifice holds an element of the erotic. Surely you've heard that the masochists are stronger than the sadists.
There are a lot of disjointed female body parts in Bowen's poetry. Mouths and throats and wrists and ribs and spines. I love how the mouths hold such dangerous power. A power that is often contained, but that has the potential to break free and wreak some serious havoc. As in:
"the fire alarm of my mouth"
"In the end, the house burns beneath the
moon opening like a mouth torn out of a book"
The collection as a whole is strong and lovely and I adored many of the poems within, my personal favorites being the title piece, 'Feign', the first poem of the book, 'How to Read This Poem', and 'Trouble'. Thanks to 'Feign', poetry was swimming through my head almost all night long to the point I could hardly sleep. I didn’t need to dream, because Bowen’s poetic imagery was akin to the batting of dark female dreaming.
Like a strange blue dress with dreadful cautionary tales lurking around the seams, which have not yet begun to tatter, but are loosening…
Juliet Cook is a poet and the editor of Blood Pudding Press. A few of her newest publication credits are ‘DIAGRAM’, ‘OCTOPUS’, ‘little red leaves’, and ‘Prick of the Spindle’. She is a Pushcart Prize nominee and currently has a poem representing in Sundress Publications Best of the Net 2007 Anthology. A selection of new poetry is also available as the first edition of Volume #2 of COMBATIVES, a single author zine series affiliated with H_NGM_N. Her latest chapbook, ‘Planchette’, is available now from Blood Pudding Press at www.BloodPuddingPress.etsy.com.