EILEEN TABIOS Engages
IN THE ICE HOUSE by Genevieve Kaplan
(Red Hen Press, Pasadena, CA, 2011)
settings for these scenes by Genevieve Kaplan
(convulsive editions, Chicago & Madison, IL, 2013)
Shards of glass. Often catching light. Ultimately refracting or shifting what point of view the reader initially brought to the poems. You look up from the poems on the page and see the world anew—in this sense, Genevieve Kaplan’s poems in IN THE ICE HOUSE generate the effect possible by many great poems: expanding the reader’s vision.
Shards—for the effect is often created through an unexpected slice, a sharpness, as in
Granted, the flowers will take hold,
what is yet rising will ease somehow. From here,
the light attacks
the window and the stress of the shining
does not ease.
I wonder if this collection was created as a singular project versus being a collection of individual poems. By this, I mean that the poems together create their own distinct world—and (from my experience) this effect often arises from a momentary (though it can last days and weeks, of course, if not longer) taking over of the poet’s psyche … and the poet writes and writes until the energy finally dissipates. Which is to say, the voice is admirably strong in this book. The receptive reader even has a sense of travel through the space created by the poems. This book is a world one not only reads but visits, so palpable is its landscape. Even its air is different—
but an eye, arms, and—no one
lay there to receive it.
Or lacked a frame. Some
manual. The landscape lacked a firefighter,
a police officer, a guide dog. The landscape
had no symmetry. Could not be received
because no one could abide it.
Deft technique helps. There are 85 poems in the book, and what helps knit them together are the returns to certain touchstones: birds, trees, ice...
Yet despite the clear references, a sense of mystery permeates the poems, elevating them by drawing the reader in more deeply through a wondering over what is being addressed. For instance:
The look is fading and the hills too
where the sun slopes across, they’re circled
It is never the heat that remains
—from “The Ice Storm” (47)
Another effect: while the individual poems are effectively wrought, reading the book chronologically generates a sprawling resonance I more relate to reading long novels. What I see in Kaplan’s book is a maturity not often seen in inaugural poetry books, making me eager to read more of her poems.
From IN THE ICE HOUSE, I moved to her chap, settings for these scenes. I see much of the same fine elements I saw in her book. But I also see her writing sprawling more across the page, more use of the white space:
The text in the chap, including almost the stuttering type of reading it encourages, generates a similar palpability—here’s an example separated out from its visual placement on the page: “there, a light / tended itself / / throwing / ordinary voice in and / out / in and out / and over / and all / the / light / coming away.”
But by using white space or in-betweeness along with words, Kaplan more effectively manifests the “theme” implied by the chap’s title. The caesuras allow for presence or presences as might be applied by the reader. The readerly engagement thus affirms how the poems are “settings for these scenes,” scenes that occur not just through the writing but the reading.
It was a joy to read both collections together. The chap is dated, thus I assume made, after the book. The trajectory is promising for future reads of Kaplan’s work.
Eileen Tabios reveals something about herself in ARDUITY'S interview about what's hard about her poetry. Her just-released poetry collection, SUN STIGMATA (Sculpture Poems), received a review by Amazon Hall of Famer reviewer Grady Harp. Due out in 2015 will be her second "Collected Poems" project; while her first THE THORN ROSARY was focused on the prose poem form, her forthcoming INVEN(S)TORY will focus on the list or catalog poem form. More information at http://eileenrtabios.com