Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review of Suzanne Frischkorn's "Lit Windopane" (Wild Goose, Winter 2008)

Review of Suzanne Frischkorn’s Lit Windowpane (Main Street Rag, 47 pages, $14)

Spare, quiet, minimal in its approach, Suzanne Frischkorn’s new collection of poetry, Lit Windowpane, beautifully illustrates the power poetry has to say a great deal in only a few words. Most of the poems here are brief. “November’s Window,” the shortest, is not even as long as a haiku, 13 syllables in this case, and yet, those 13 syllables remind us of the power of the image to create deep, resonant meaning:

Street light’s orange glow--
a branding iron on the iris.

In these lines, the necessary glow of the street light metaphorically suggests the declining season of growth that now claims ownership of the iris. The title of the poem, as numerous titles in the collection, also reminds us of the importance of perspective, of the fact that, in the words of Paul Davies, “Nothing can be seen in isolation, for the very act of observation must involve a coupling of some sort.” It is this vital coupling, ultimately, that the speaker of these poems would have us meditate upon, a coupling that forbids us from taking things for granted and from letting the importance, the vitality, and the spirituality of the natural world vanish too easily.
One of the best poems of the collection, “Mermaid,” in fact, is very reminiscent of a now canonical poem with a similar message, namely William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us.” In Frischkorn’s mermaid who remembers times “Before those creatures with spliced tails freed me / to teach me to kneel,” we hear a complaint against what modern religion has done to our ability to recognize the sacred in nature that is similar to that heard in Wordsworth’s lines “Great God! I'd rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn.”
Similarly, we hear another thematic echo from a canonical Romantic poem in “Puccini at Dusk.” In this case, it is the contrast of temporal human creation with the immortal natural from Shelley’s “Ozymandias” that we hear again:

I excavate our yard with a garden trowel
and unearth shards of Delft, dull spoons,
a cup handle; remnants
of a dinner party. Is this all we leave
behind? The chain-link fence smothers
in trumpet vine, siren
song to hummingbirds.

Later in this same poem, the speaker explores a third Romantic theme, the pursuit of beauty, when she says:

. . . I’ll do anything
for beauty. I roam this city and count
its storefront churches,
soaped windows, burned factories--one
opera house, nexus to three pawnshops.
Dusk rubs its thumb
along the horizon. I hear the echo
of an aria; it follows each gold band
and a slide guitar.

This theme is wonderfully altered to include acknowledgment of the subjectivity of perception in the poem, “Storm:”

I rend a hole in the window screen and bid the rain in--
with the tip of my pencil--

a small hole, a few drops of rain
to wet my fingers.

Wait for the weeds in the culvert, wait for them
to finish sprouting between stones,
for the electric blue flowers to spread open.

I have given in to them.

Sometimes, beauty is the broken window, or the peeling
paint of the porch rail;

it’s overcast or it’s partly cloudy,
and sometimes it’s birdsong.

Amid such poems which acknowledge the subjectivity, temporality, and inevitable loss of such things as beauty, innocence, and our deeper connections with the natural world, Frischkorn offers as solution the fostering of vital habits: looking, refusing to take things for granted, remembering, sharing, and keeping what we can. These habits are stressed in poems like “Eve,” “Still Water,” “Afterwards,” and my favorite from the manuscript, “The View:”

A green pine cone, one of hundreds
you’ll pick up in late winter. Yes,
it’s June, but winter is coming, some
things you can bet on. Others
you take for granted--
asphodels push through wet earth,
songbirds sing, and your children
perennials of your own making; for
the rest of your life
the view of their backs
as they push away from you.

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