OK, OK, you probably want something a bit more articulate… First, let me direct you to Maggie Graber’s incredible range of style. In a world where most good poets find one formula and stick to it almost ad nauseum, Graber seems devoted to mastering several different styles—but mastering them not as a literary party trick, but for the kind of reasons that make us read and write poetry in the first place.
First up is The Crickets Remember, which on one level seems to be a semi-experimental stream-of-consciousness narrative on loneliness, but on closer inspection, is also resplendent with so many small, artistic touches that I feel like I’m looking at the insides of a watch. Take, for instance, the careful alliteration moving us down the page like the rungs of a ladder, coupled with the poem’s taut, overall shape and of course, the fantastic turn at the end. Frankly, I’d have a hard time uncapping my red pen and suggesting so much as a single syllable that needs cutting. Like carbon turned into diamond, this poem feel compressed in the best way.
Next we have Poem for Whoever Hacked my Debit Card and Spent $150 at the Macy’s in Alexandria, VA. I love this poem not just for its sheer imagination but for the deft way it illustrates how a good poet can alter their own recipe depending on who’s sitting at the table. In this case, after reading the title, we expect a different type of poem than The Crickets Remember, and Graber delivers by loosening up the form to play up the dark humor. Yet Graber doesn’t forget the golden rule of poetry—never be the hero of your own poems—meaning by extension that she doesn’t make the thief out to be a total villain, either. Instead, she adds personal recollections and some fun turns so that by the end, there seems to be a strange kinship formed between the two.
The Idea of Ancestry is yet another turn in style, employing careful use of anaphora to give it a broad, authoritative feel (reminiscent of Walt Whitman) that’s balanced by the attention paid to small, specific details (the feel of a yellow lab’s fur, the melted wax of a candle, a double-decker bus in Dublin, etc). It’s a poem that, for me, replicates the building storm of a good short story. And it’s followed by Ode to Graph Paper, or, Questions for the Cardinal, which has the distinction of being one of only two or three concrete poems that has ever made me cheer.
Those who read last month’s Poetry Feature about John Guzlowski (or, really, any of our Features) know that I have a weakness for writers whose intelligence is eclipsed by their poems’ generosity of spirit. Put another way, cleverness and raw lyricism are just fuel; it takes something more to turn them into a furnace, and whatever that something is, Graber has it.