An independent small press poetry review

NHI independent review
West House Books
40 Crescent Road
Nether Edge
S7 1HN
ISBN 0 9531509 6 8

Leafe Press
1 Leafe Close
ISBN 0 9535401 1 1
£3.50 [$8]

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This page last updated: 11th December 2007.

This is an energetic attempt to confront life through poetry in a bold and original way. WAGNER is not afraid to be honest, passionate and boldly sexual in her writing and this fires her poetry with a quirky and capricious voice. She vividly paints pictures with a controlled stream of consciousness as in BLEAK APT

	A feeling I should leave the earth leave the earth
	When you get close-to you'll find I know best about everything
	If I try I will spit on somebody like when I laugh and snot
	I am so afraid I'll do that I get all squinched.
This raw edge to the poems is evident throughout the book. It is only lost in the only prose poem in the book HATCH where the smoothness distracts from the sharp comments on racism. This is a book for the brave.

reviewer: Polly Bird.

The poems in this slim collection by Catherine Wagner are headed EXERCISE: perhaps meaning an activity requiring physical effort or a mental or spiritual activity. The exercises themselves are in no particular order, but move from 22, a sequence of 10 poems, to Exercises 5, 4, 1, 6, 13, 25, 27, 33, 35 and 26, all of which are given a time frame.

Obscurity is often the keynote of these poems. But obscurity used as a tool. It works to force the reader to ask questions that will direct him or her to an understanding of the poem. The poem should have a balance of intellectual, physical and emotional contexts. I want to look for an example of this balance at the first poem EXERCISE 22, for C, I, and R:

	Hatred and doom
	Took it torquing into my gut.  I flamed
	& I came kindness.
	I hoped I was kind and good and fretted
	my tongue with pink & raw serrations.
	I imitated nobody in
	                        my hate.

	I was alone.
The first line gives the reader an emotional context. In the second and successive lines the physical context seems to be delineated. The poem ends up as a statement about the complexity of relationships and how events turn out in ways that may astonish us. The surprise in lines break, line length, enjambment work as part of the interest of the poem. One of the poem’s subjects is how events can seem to get out of control, yet at the end we see that events have not gone out of control: it is that they have turned out differently from what we expected. The poem's closure demonstrates order being brought out of apparent disorder.

EXERCISE 5 (11/30/00 P.M.) is a Christmas poem from Cathy. The persona is rising from sleep, washing, brushing her teeth. Her writing, she says, "is not a lazy or easy activity". The Old Ones are mentioned — who are they? Perhaps past poets that one wishes to emulate.

In the poem EXERCISE 35 (1/4/02 P.M.) the poet has completed a book review, which she found hard to write

	because I decided not to say anything bad
	& couldn’t say anything good.
She continues by thinking about housework that's waiting to be done and parcels it off neatly to cover three days. Her shoulder begins to ache and she realises her typing might be disturbing someone downstairs:
	I bet she downstairs wishes Id go to bed
			stop creaking
	I will, Nicole
	she probably can't hear me, I have some of those sneakers you can
							see through the sole
Our understanding of each poem is sudden and unexpected. A good poem constantly uses surprise. Even originality is a form of surprise. Both suspense and surprise in these poems affect our anticipation.

Structure is nothing without creating in the reader a desire to know what is going to happen. Once that desire is created, then the reader's attention is driven forward by means of pacing, which is accompanied by creating patterns of tension and rest, by making the reader anticipate, then sometimes frustrating and sometimes rewarding that anticipation as in EXERCISE 26 (12/01/01 P/M.):

	Nothing at all in my head?  In my head?
				My skinny head up and down in the window
			one set of lines vanishes as I
		rise, the other as I lower myself
	Just because you write these every day doesn't mean the lines can be throwaway
	Yes, it does
Wagner uses language economically and creatively to challenge norms and comfort zones. Her poems have grit. I shall keep an eye out for her next publication.

reviewer: Patricia Prime.