Thursday, March 27, 2008



Learning the Language by Kate Greenstreet
(Etherdome, Boulder, CO, 2005)


case sensitive by Kate Greenstreet
(Ahsahta Press, Boise, ID, 2006)

[First published in The Can, issue #1, Katalanche Press, March 2007]

“Begin asking”: Traveling Through the Poetry of Kate Greenstreet

Kate Greenstreet’s chapbook Learning the Language opens with the line “Learning a language is a form of travel.” From there, the poems take off on an adventure driven by the desire to know and the desire to get things accurate—both of which can never be satisfied. This journey continues through her full-length collection, case sensitive. While physical travel does take place—the narrator fleeing in a car, staying in hotel rooms, moving into a new home—the act of writing itself becomes equated with travel: “She’s writing all the time, and she’s carrying a suitcase. / She might be going somewhere” (“Book of Love”). Most of the travel is internal, an internal quest to seek the truth, to understand, to follow what happens when one begins asking.

In her essay “Bewilderment,” Fanny Howe offers one definition of the lyric: “It is a method of searching for something that can’t be found. It is an air that blows and buoys and settles. It says ‘Not this, not this,’ instead of, ‘I have it’.” Greenstreet asks and answers, “What’s the appeal of a mystery? Someone is looking for something actively” (“Great Women of Science”). Greenstreet’s poems act as quest narratives where there is no end goal or final destination in site—the ultimate point of the quest being the quest itself, the act of asking. In “Salt [on icy streets makes winter travel safe]”, Greenstreet writes, “Everybody wants a simple answer,” and later in “Salt [moves muscles, including the heart]”, “That our questions will not be answered is basic as salt.” There are no simple answers and no absolute truths. Constant questioning replaces the need to arrive at these truths—the journey continues. The poet is a spiral-walker who Howe describes as having “no plain path, no up and down, no inside or outside. But there are strange returns and recognitions and never a conclusion.” For Greenstreet and the narrator in case sensitive, asking questions does not seem to be one possible option; it is mandate, the only way of life. The last line of the poem “Learning the Language” orders: “Begin asking.”

When I first read Learning the Language, I was immediately drawn in by the voice. Even in case sensitive, which is conceptually five chapbooks by a persona, the voice is welcoming: “How familiar it feels. Not like it’s my house, but like the house is my friend” (“The Purpose of Discouragement”). There is something instinctive about the person telling the story, something trustworthy. The narrator asks the right questions and leaves out the right details: “I’m not trying to be hidden, but it’s natural. / A story has to leave out nearly everything or nobody can follow it” (“Salt [raises the boiling point]”). In Greenstreet I feel like I have found an old friend, a fellow traveler, someone who is at times humorous, at times serious, but always conscious of the world and the task at hand. I look forward to future journeys wherever they may lead.


Gina Myers lives in Saginaw, MI where she makes books for Lame House Press. Her new chapbook Behind the R is forthcoming from ypolita press later this year.

1 comment:

na said...

Another view of CASE SENSITIVE is offered by Pamela Hart in GR #6 at:

And other views of LEARNING THE LANGUAGE are offered by Ivy Alvarez in GR #3 at:

and by Julie R. Enszer in GR #2 at: