Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Brenda Graham

Brenda Graham
Musings for March 5, 2009

I recently reviewed Brenda Graham’s first book of poems, How Sound Carries Over Water, for Wild Goose Poetry Review. In the review I stated, “Graham does the hard work of the poet. She goes back into memory to find the images that reveal the deeper truths about the places we live, and then she tries on word after word and phrase after phrase until she finds the one way those images can be recorded such that the reader is transported to the time, place, and reality she writes of.”
At the risk of sounding conceited, I like that idea of poets trying on words until they find the right combination to transport their readers. It’s not unlike anyone getting dressed for a romantic night out. The unstated hope is that the selections made and the combinations created will transport the intended viewer, the object of affection, to a more romantic time and place, a time and place without the day to day worries of life, perhaps a time before the birth of children and the effects of gravity.
Unlike romance, poetry does not often have such optimistic prospects. The places the reader is transported to are more often dark, frightening, disturbing, and frequently all too familiar. Still, the readers of poetry seek this very transportation, coming back to the poets who achieve it for second, third, and continual “dates.” This suggests that it may not be a particular type of experience the reader of poetry seeks but rather a particular quality, a depth that goes beyond the level to which our “day to day worries” normally permit us to go.
As my review makes clear, Brenda Graham is a poet who achieves this sort of transportation. Her poems are hauntingly, disturbingly familiar, and their power cathartically transports the reader to a deeper experience and understanding of the world we grew up in and the world in which we continue to exist. The poem, “The Vase,” reprinted below, illustrates how Graham clothes her poems in words which make us feel not the dream of romance but the deeper meanings of things found in the real world.

The Vase

Empty and blue,
shaped like a robin’s egg, it slips
from my hands, shatters
on the hardwood floor.

Slivers by the hundreds
at his feet, my husband,
like one of the king’s men,
bends over the mess.

I cannot imagine how
he will fix this. I draw
his attention to the permanent
glue stuck to his fingers.

Aw, he says, It’ll come off, in time.
Once upon a time, I tried
to mend our conversations
that heated up
like a glass blower’s furnace.
Soon enough, I learned to treat
the melted, twisted stuff
with a cold blast of silence.

Brenda Graham grew up in Columbia, South Carolina, and now lives in Denver, North Carolina. Her poems have been published in Southern Poetry Review, Wellspring, Main Street Rag, and Cincinnati Poetry Review, among other journals. Her collection, How Sound Carries Over Water, can be ordered from www.mainstreetrag.com. She will be featured with Hickory poet, Sigrid Hice, at Poetry Hickory on Tuesday, March 10, at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory, starting at 6:30 P.M.

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