NANORA SWEET: ROTOGRAVURE
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|NANORA SWEET: ROTOGRAVURE|
In part I of ROTOGRAVURE, Nanora Sweet explains the meaning of the word "rotogravure. She says,
Rotogravure process is an intaglio method of printing, meaning that the pictures, designs and words are engraved into the printing plate or printing cylinder.Her book is divided into four parts: I is dedicated to the author's parents; II features two German republicans; III is about the poet's father, and IV contains a mosaic of images.
With ROTOGRAVURE Nanora Sweet offers a sequence of poems that explore the home ground of memory: a view of growing up in
the urban Midwest, about St. Louis in particular and its people and places.It is at once a long time ago and as freshly remembered as if it happened yesterday. Sweet has a sure knack for rendering the felt texture of people, places and events. In lines as gritty as charcoal, she delineates the real, the grain of the everyday, as if repeating a catechism.
The book invokes interior weather, and takes the temperature of the times. Sweet shakes the family tree and finds it full of incident. Here is a picture of an ordinary family in an ordinary suburb - but how extraordinary people are if rendered accurately, as in the poem THE JAZZ FLUTE PLAYS:
that summer that your head had been shaved because of scarlet fever and diphtheria, someone actually photographed you that way - waiting until you could begin to look less frightening. Or later you are happy, locking arms with a handsome brother and flashing your brilliant smile.Stock characters from domesticity burst into vivid life. Here's the mundane of childhood illness in all its actual preciousness, as if salvaged from the attic. The language, of course, has everything to do with evoking these scenes.
In the late nineteen forties there was The Park (SCATTERED LAGOONS), but over the years things have changed:
... To the north the balustrades are crumbling. The River of the Fathers surfaces in railyards and then borders the city with the white stones of its walls. This knowledge begins with a dream. Even time Is controverted when art is the only power.The past is recaptured as a kind of oral history; stories are edited and stitched together but otherwise hardly tampered with. The poet is ever faithful to her idiom, the sounds of spoken English neatly captured as in the title poem, ROTOGRAVURE:
On a Sunday, still sleepy, I read old news and turn pages heavy with everyone's dreams. A cat's eyes are naturally yellow they say, although a blue-eyed cat walks my chair backs and sleeps on the rotogravure.Attentive to a multitude of cherished particulars, Sweet creates a memorial to time, place and dreams and, as she says,
we've become lost in the pictures and do not want to leave.In part II, Sweet creates atmospheres around historical personages: John Frederick's daughters, and a statue of Schiller. Chattiness is the preferred mode of communication, and the method she uses to unlocking secrets. The book delivers the sense of conformism and intimacy we associate with the era's psychodramas. Sweet constructs mosaics with her long, enjambed lines. The rhythm and syntax are effective in rendering a sense of being there; it seems as though we are part of this heritage.
In THE STATUE OF SCHILLER IN THE PLAZA, she describes
The manly German poetwho
stands above us with pen and book of stoneand ends by taking a pledge:
... On this Plaza a pledge is but a poem in a stone fašade and slightly foreign tongue. "Even on the day he died," the newspaper said of Gottlieb, "he portrayed his death in the language of the poet.In part III, the poet writes about her father who is conjured up in images of the desk at which he worked (FATHER'S DESK):
... For all your reckonings, the will you left could only measure out the hatred, pity, greed, and love of those you left behind.Sweet, sour, cosmic, the poem's wisdom lies in its fidelity: to the girl being shaped and stamped by early experiences -
... There's room enough in here to store this light vocabulary of the nondescript, these pennyworths of smile and sigh, these small dispersals that come back again.and to the father's teaching, as in the poem A CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON where
We teach before we're taught. Acquaintances, We thrive on rules and rights. Who'll teach Us to be friends, and to befriend? You learned The hard (hard-hearted) way we would not learn.Sweet bears witness, and we relish the confirmation of her testimony.
Part IV is remarkably intense, here are poems of images that blaze as you read. In COUNCIL GROVE, the poet is out for a drive to look at other people's houses -
They say that, close by Council Grove, Clark took more land and planted an estate called Minonma. His son gave it a manor house trimmed in gingerbread. It lasted into the nineteen fifties, which gave it an address and tore it down. I've driven out today, that address on my mind.In a matter-of-fact tone, Sweet tells us that for her,
history is all a foreshorteningROTOGRAVURE is a saga of memories and held moments. Sweet sometimes barges too forcefully into the past, leaving us slightly bemused and bewildered. In THE LESSER BALKANS, for example, she imagines that
Priests and cardinals chose well in building a Byzantine cathedral for this town. A simpler mosaic takes shape here, asphalt, chat, cement lovers, old maids, grandmothers, sisters, heirs.The encounter somehow a golden dream of harmony, as if the glimpsed town is imparting some ancient wisdom.
ROTOGRAVURE takes us back to the landscape of the Midwest, back to the days of childhood, and urban life. Here, the poems are freighted with an extraordinary melancholy, with the poet's knowledge that things don't last. As the voice glides, pauses, then twists and turns, the poet nails down her defining images: parents, cousins, the town, historical figures. Her poems are made out of a few simple elements, a few things that resonate, that matter to her, where a believer in the power of the imagination can redeem them.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|