Awakening: poems by Laura Solomon
New York: Adelaide Books (2018).
Reviewed by Patricia Prime
In Laura Solomon’s collection of poetry, Awakening, I found much to enjoy. Although I preferred the quiet and reflective poems rather than the more personal ones, most of the poems are evocations of stillness and experiences mulled over in quiet contemplation. Each page is marked by a generous space of white silence that surround the texts. These texts themselves are predominantly verses of three or four lines. They are not discrete but link up – after a space of silence, a pause – with poems further into the book. The poems frequently, but not always, have a steady stress, and are marked by their simplicity of expression. This is appropriate as the poems are usually about personal events. They invite reflective attention, and resolve can be intuited from many of them. This is an example from the title poem “Awakening” (10):
I could hand you a sewing kit –
needle and cotton thread.
You could stitch yourself a new heart –
I could make it beat in two-four time
And we could waltz
Perfect strangers who should know better.
Solomon’s central topic is the connection of the human and natural world, of abstraction and the concrete, of the imagined and the lived. The poems are meditations enacted often in a humorous and imaginative way. Further, they are not without a human dimension. “The Doctors” (17) is a vital and austere poem that brings together thoughts about the power doctors have over their patients:
The doctors know it all, know best,
Know whether to wait or operate,
When to lock you up or set you free
And have no knowledge of compassion.
“The Party” (21) recalls famous people who died young. The poet has gathered them together to recount their lives and the shock of their sudden and often self-inflicted deaths:
You have to be dead to be invited to this party.
As is to be expected, all the stars are here.
Janis, Marilyn, Jesus.
There are ordinary people too though.
Kevin Watson who died of a blood clot to the brain
shortly after his 40th birthday.
He’s been resurrected. Now he’s
partying in the corner –
“Animal Instinct” (27) is a longer, moving poems, telling of a “limited life span”.
Man or animal?
Well what have we here –
A near perfect strange getting kicks for free
Every night like some Cobain song
while I march along in time,
No doubt just as guilty.
“The Sword Swallower’s Lament” (35) is about a girl word swallower and itemises her costume and a description of the swords, but also takes us to the awful denouement:
They say mine is a spectacular show
that draws the cheers.
At the end of the night;
Here sit I – my bloodied stomach,
My lacerated throat.
The events described throughout this collection could be, in lesser hands, too relentless, even disingenuous in their insistence. Solomon, however, has a wry humour and is successful in merging poetry and personal themes. She addresses personal grief and anxiety in simple language, as we see in the lengthy poem “Solitary” (41), which tackles the problems of confinement of the sick or mentally ill patient:
Four walls closing in
Why do they do this to us?
Dragged from cell to cell,
It’s a form of torture,
a form of abuse.
Solomon looks at things carefully and with passion and linguistic verve and tells you what she thinks. Awakening is a collection of vial and intelligent verse.
Patricia Prime, besides being a regular contributor to takahē, is co-editor of Kokako and assistant editor of Haibun Today. Patricia’s primary interest is Japanese short form poetry – haiku, tanka, haibun and tanka prose – and she has published a book of collaborative tanka sequences called Shizuka (2015).