Monday, November 14, 2011

Valerie Coulton, open book

El Espejo

The perfect man has no face. Behind every story, there is another story. Books multiply and refract. When the wanderer, believed long dead, returns, only one person recognizes him. He has disguised himself artfully but failed to erase all traces of that which was once loved: a tone of voice, a scar, the body's signature by which the soul is written. You who have grown old in so many mirrors, naked under your disguise.
From American Barcelona-based poet Valerie Coulton comes a fourth trade poetry collection, open book (Berkeley CA: Apogee Press, 2011), following her Cellar Dreamer (Apogee Press, 2007), The Lily Book (Fourteen Hills Press, 2004) and passing word pictures (Apogee Press, 2003). 

Constructed in three sections—“libro borrado,” “open book” and “native speaker”—the pieces that make up open book are each constructed with different ends, beginning with a section of individual prose poems (subtitled/dedicated “for my parents, and for Carmina”), a section-sequence of extended lyric narrative poems (subtitled/dedicated “for Edward”), and a section of letters to destinations unknown (subtitled/dedicated “for the clouds”). 

Of these, in the first collection I've read of hers, it's the third and final section that really strikes, composing letters to one or more intended readers, or even, back to the narrator herself, as a series of journal entries.

Dear ________,
Thank you for your absence, your useful disappearance, air's
cave where your form imprints late August light. Wanted in
sand, in thick sheets. Your mother watches television. Her
hands retired. Your brother scrubs in and makes a first
incision. A country is clothing, the cut of a jacket. Price of
cologne, nuance of speech. Words, tiny as salt. What did you
want to be? Instructions on a box, a game of cards. The men
are playing now, in your harbor.

Dear ________,
October already and time is flowing, flooding, leaking out of
our windows and walls. I wander the shops, hungry, empty of
ideas. Sleeping is my best work. You are driving, listening to
music, without appetite. Here it's time for lamplight,
something bitter on the tongue.
I'm intrigued by her narrative stretches, intrigued to see what else her poems have achieved, over the years, in her previous works. Is it reading too much into the poems to wonder about her dedication, “for the clouds”? Does that make this a sequence written to the self, staring contemplatively into a near-empty sky?
Dear ________,
My temporal education is beginning now, in branches beyond
wrought iron. I knew something about minutes but nothing
about years. A pale day without shadows. Building façades
waver in the glass. Will repetition finally teach me the things I
don't want to learn?

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