An independent small press poetry review

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Hanging Loose Press
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ISBN 1 931236 31 3

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WHEN THE BODY SAYS IT'S LEAVING is the second poetry collection from the acclaimed Paris-based poet, translator and teacher, Pansy Maurer-Alvarez.

This collection partakes of both the surreal and the intimate, the vision of the poet slipping from the instinctively personal and interior to the avidly observed outer walls of the objects and persons she describes. In the opening poem, DREAM THE ANIMALS, Maurer-Alvarez includes an epigraph made up of fragments of a quotation by British artist David Inshaw:

by composing one instant from lots of different unrelated moments,
we are given,
to produce a picture that held a moment in time,
just before the poet tells us:
	dream the animals each lovely self
	prowling they circle preparing the leap
	exposing urgency more than the present
	could ever again renew our interest

	my body searches for its own dance
	       as my arms arch experimentally 
I felt, almost from the very first word of this first poem that I would certainly be caught up in the poet's arms, being stretched more experimentally than emotionally and I was. This collection treats the reader to imagery and word-play culled from the de-forming/re-forming actualities of dreams, thumbnail galleries of images, and rhythms that are set then taken apart at the joints. This might sound like heady stuff, tailor-made for the lover of the surreal, imagistic or experimental, but I was left disappointed, often unreasonably confused and, ultimately, dissatisfied.

One of the most frustrating poems is NOT REALLY THE IMAGE BUT ALL THE FACTS, gratuitously subtitled "a personal poem," which opens:

	When I'm running to respond within what I figure I am to myself
	I try my thoughts out to feel better and I carry
	my world view with me hopefully
	always full of hopefulness
I tumble to ask the mundane question, "But what does this mean?" What are you as the poet trying to share with me, as a reader? What do you want me to feel? to know? to intuit? to dream? And the answer I get back is figure it out; work. I don't mind working for a poem, but I want to enjoy the process, to feel as if I am working with not against the poet, labouring towards something meaningful and satisfying on some level. This poem, like others in the collection, fights the reader all the way towards some sense of sympathy with the poet's intent. You have to battle with series of words that trip up your tongue, your rhythmic ear and your sense, as they tie themselves up in their own knots. NOT REALLY THE IMAGE continues:
	Impatient awaiting             desired me and I watched
	how I have been named to improve
	now behaviors with style but favourably by simple names       comprising
	the effective one  reactions gently, successful time-formed insights 
	names like fables (my name is inside them) so that I can be when wrong
	but softer
	currently and frequently
	compiling my thoughts
To be fair, the collection is peppered with wonderful moments of precision and wit, as in VENUS DE MILO THANKS TO THE FRENCH:
	Those two arms
	   and left foot
	could be anywhere by now
In the same poem, we are treated to this cutting cultural critique of the use and misuse of a goddess:
	She's sold everything you could imagine from corsets and cars to
	rubber and political propaganda and she's not half done yet
And in IN THE GARDEN OF BRIGHTLY-COLORED MYSTERIES we get this extraordinarily visceral image:

	I expected to sense the animals
	chewing and breathing

	(I feel their humidity)
One of the most successful poems is Bog Myrtle V, subtitled
from a series of coiled basket forms by Anna S. King, textile artist
	Take bog myrtle
	    that unprepossessing marshland shrub
	    with a beautiful aroma when crushed
	Put under the brow bands of childhood ponies
	    to keep the flies away and now a reminder
	    of weekends on the west coast of Scotland
	Bunches brought back to work with
	    aware of the option of holding something back
	    when lost in the hypnotic rhythm of weaving
This poem stands out from the rest as almost embarrassingly accessible and pleasing.

Maurer-Alvarez is a poet of obvious erudition and wide experience of the worlds of art and culture. Her technical skill is impressive, for the themes of the collection (animals, angels, Christian/husband, dance, fire) build incrementally, one poem feeding an image to the next poem which, in turn, feeds another embellished image, and on to the next. But we are asked to be as intrigued as she is by the paintings, photographs, dance performances, sculptures, still lifes, dreams and fragments that provide the subjects of her poems and their many, many, many epigraphs and subtitles culled from the poems and writings of other artists, which only serve to instil a sense borrowed emotional authority and we simply cannot be, for we are lost inside her formatting pyrotechnics, random and stilted deletion of articles and conjunctions, arbitrary explosions of capitalization, and often intensely personalized flights of recollection.

As the poet says, so aptly, in NIGHTFALL SO BRIEFLY HERE:

	     Every possible detail
	has been an effort

reviewer: Stephanie Smith-Browne.