MARY OLIVER says of Spring Tide that its poems are "brisk and compelling" and the language "select and elegant." Oliver is spare in her praise of Suzanne Frischkorn's chapbook but just the same, Mary Oliver judged it a winner of the 2004 Aldrich Poetry Competition, along with its companion chap, Inventing an Alphabet by Judith Valente.
I intended to read the 15 poems quickly, for a first flavor but I couldn't. They wouldn't allow for a cursory read. These poems demand attention. You imbibe the words, take them on your tongue. Then watch how they act like shape shifters, moving from nonchalant moments to momentous.
Take "Freshwater Notecards" - here the diction is delicate and purposeful, almost minimalist but creating a chiaroscuro of depth in the reader's imagination.
A leaf falls with a curl
and twist like hyson -
green tea - its crinkle
hints at unquiet. I will fly
in like a bird: not looking
sideways, not looking
down, not looking up.
I believe in the sulphur light
on the corner, casting shine
on snowflakes -
large dust motes - at 5am. These
are the days of puddle with boot,
leak from roof, the mist season.
Listen as the flute of leaves grows
quiet ... the sky, a split of quartz
and mica, of griesen. Let's start
with the opaque dialect of your
eyelids, veiled, diaphonous
and shut to the Japanese beetle
on my thumb. I'll nip your earlobe
to wake you, leaving a wet
indentation. We stand, here,
on the shore the ocean returns
and returns to us - coy lover -
eyeing stars, cold flames surround
the moon. A shore without silence,
the spray of waves, and the start
of gloam. Glass reflects, and water
cups truth - a fresh silver minnow.
There's such an appetite for words here, for how they appear side by side, and how they sound in the mouth. Frischkorn has this intense spontaneity akin to the witness self. Rather than flooding the reader with blatency, with enunciated feeling, she instead uses the mirror of objectivity. And she can pull the reader along without us quite knowing where we are once we've arrived. For a moment, we lose our bearings. Like sanctified voyeurs, we have followed the words to become the scene.
Her poem, "Winter" seems a random juxtaposition of ordinary elements, everyday items, simple colors. But see how the scenes quickly meld and the flecks of ordinary living become this horror of memory. It will play and replay because it's just this kind of simplicity that the mind captures. An event, slow in its making, becomes recognizable in an instant. The ending of a relationship, described in this poem, becomes an acidic etching, and all its small accompaniments: snow, peach juice, the color of dishes, join as memory.
A basket sits center on the lawn.
Where are the fruits
Open, shallow, concave
one by one she lifts them and defines
white to serve with, blue to hold.
You face a square of glass half-full
with winter light - a tattered leaf,
an old oak. The sun outshines
the moon, again.
Now the prongs: to life, to pitch to pierce.
A small yellow bowl.
You bring a peach to your mouth, bite deep -
its juice, a tributary -
gathers and puddles
in the hollow of your neck.
In the kitchen your wife empties
the dishwasher without a shatter
and you know she's leaving,
that she's not coming back.
Quotidian images become more than their appearance. Prongs that pierce, the "blue to hold," concave dishes, the sweet peach punctured so carelessly - the simple objects double as the symbols of pain. She does this so gracefully.
Over at her blog, Suzanne considers the worth of writing, weighs the economy of a poem versus one of those secure jobs. I'm glad she sees there's no comparison.
The link breaks and spacing is not preserved here - please take a look at Suzanne's original.