Thursday, May 21, 2020

Katie Condon, Praying Naked

Katie Condon, an American, One of the Roughs, a Kosmos in the Flesh.

You have never touched a woman if you haven’t touched me.

I call to you from where I swim near the shore. When I call to you, my
breasts rise from the water so nicely.

Not even you can resist me. There is not a single gray hair on my

soul. Hot soul! Soul of
sweat & lipstick, soul positioned
in truth! Soul cloaked

by my bright body rising now from the river’s clutch. My soul calling you.
            My breasts & heart & hips sidling up in the grass to meet you.

Feel even my cheek against your palm.

Is it my clamor that stalls you? I shout at the sky & claw its ether down so
you might lay me upon it.

When you take my body finally into your mouth, my soul will not return
the love you offer me. I will not thank you for liking the touch of

I know it is good for you to do so.

Atlanta, Georgia poet Katie Condon’s debut, winner of the Charles B. Wheeler Poetry Prize, is Praying Naked (Columbus OH: Mad Creek Books, 2020). Where did she come from, and why haven’t I heard of her before this? There is a directness and intimacy to Condon’s lyrics that are reminiscent of some of Sarah Manguso’s long-ago poetry titles (before she shifted her attention to non-fiction), some of Toronto poet Lynn Crosbie’s work, or the more recent work of New Zealand poet Hera Lindsay Bird. “Here I am,” Condon writes, in the poem “Origin,” “in a century that has its eyes // shut tight—don’t I know exactly / why I’m here.” Condon’s first person lyrics offer an openness and, at times, startling directness, offering both vulnerability and swagger, writing on sex, love, desire and the body. Writing in the confessional mode, it doesn’t matter if her poems are telling tales that have happened for them to be considered true, writing of lovers and ex-lovers, god, mothers, death, driving and poetry readings. Her writing is unadorned, but unexpectedly direct, and a smart reader will recognize the power of opening lines such as “At the quarry, where your father / fucked me the first time, campfire ash / coated the flowers. / I am vain // and bottle my grief like perfume.” (“To an Ex-Lover’s Daughter”), but understand that the real power of the poem emerges later, as the narrator responds directly to that ex-lover’s daughter: “What can I offer but a mirror / you might learn from: // I don’t believe myself worthy / of merciful men.” This is an incredibly strong book from a poet worth paying attention to.

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