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DANIELA GIOSEFFI - SPRING 2001 FEATURE  

The Cortland Review

FEATURE

Grace Cavalieri
The Poet and The Poem #5: A one- hour audio program exploring the African-American roots of rap poetry and the current art form with German rap poet Bastian Boettcher.

David Kennedy
David Kennedy discusses the state of anthologies and the latest gathering by Nicholas Johnson, Foil: Defining Poetry 1985-2000.

Daniela Gioseffi
The haunting, subconscious-driven poetry of Martha Rhodes in her new book, Perfect Disappearance.

John Kinsella
Haycarting: Dialogue, discussion, and dictation among herbs, vegetables, and fruits in the latest chapter of John Kinsella's autobiographical series.

Daniela Gioseffi

Daniela Gioseffi is an American Book Award-winning author of twelve books. She has edited two prize-winning compendia of world literature and reviewed poetry for many prominent publications, including American Book Review, The Hungry Mind Review, and Independent Publisher. Gioseffi edits Skylands Writers & Artists Association, Inc. and Wise Women's Web, which was nominated for "Best of the Web," 1998. Her latest book of poetry, Going On: Poems (Via Folios, 23), was published by Bordighera Inc. in May, 2000. 
Daniela Gioseffi - Book Review

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Perfect Disappearance: Poems 
by Martha Rhodes 
New Issues Press Poetry Series
September, 2000. Paper, 62 pp. 

Our Price: $14.00  order this book


In Perfect Disappearance, Martha Rhodes tackles difficult familial themes and enters realms of the sensual with a fully liberated sensibility. She says what we would all like to say about our dreams and day dreams in connection with the significant people in our lives. Rhodes is unafraid of admitting to the ambivalent emotions associated with intimate relationships. As in the brief but powerfully psychological poem, "This Is My Mother," the speaker dutifully cares for her aged mother but imagines letting her fall and break—retaliation for having constricted her, never encouraging or understanding her grace:

This is my mother,
shrunken in my hands—
an egg, translucent,
thin-membrane'd

I am clumsy with what's small
(she never let me handle
her mother's heirloom crystal)
yet now, from bed to chair—

I dare myself to drop her

Rhodes is brave about the love-hate feelings that govern our daily lives. Though she doesn't deal with the world's sociopolitical issues, she deals deeply with the emotions that underlie wars and conflicts: greed for power, for things, for sensual pleasures, for love. There is no survivor, wise and unappeasable. Her animated style is within her poetic control and results in gripping poems that keep us with her all the way, nodding with recognition, smiling wryly, and feeling the nebulous anxieties that drive us. Though a few poems are elliptical, sometimes surreal, most are accessible even in the deliberate vagaries of their Kafkaesque style.

This is candid, wise, clever, quirky and wry poetry, but there are moments of tenderness amidst Rhodes' sternness. The poet is sane and grounded, even when the speaker of the poems is deluded by haunting dreams and vague panic. Rhodes weaves an interesting mosaic of Freudian relationships—the binding ties of family—with the fear of death in such poems as "It Being Forbidden," "Why They Can't Move," "A Room Where a Child," and "Landmarks."

Sister, uncles, nieces, fathers
All pressed into this
Small earth She's swallowing his chest, his hand's
In her thigh, thin sheets
Our grandmothers wove
Pine boxes our grandfathers carved
Crumbling
Small continents rubbing & rubbing
When will their limbs
Cease reaching, by when must I say, Yes
Put me down here

She bears witness to the foibles of human nature, the jealousies, hatreds and longings that propel us all. The poem in which she dreams about her sister, "Without Gloves," crystallizes the sibling rivalries with which we can all identify.

Martha Rhodes has a steady grasp on the subconscious, and that's what makes the poems interesting. They embody terror, anger, anxiety, love, and forgiveness with a thoroughly refreshing uncompromising lack of sentimentality. Martha Rhodes' first book, At the Gate (Provincetown Arts Press, 1995), is likewise filled with vignettes and flashes of dream or memory . Rhodes is an odd original with courage to be herself. New Issues Press has attractively presented this new collection, winner of the 2000 Green Rose Prize. Just as there are good poets like Rhodes who, but for some twist of fate, should or would be among our best-known American contemporaries, there are many "naked emperors without new clothes" who are far more celebrated and shouldn't be.

This empress of words has clothes and wears them well indeed! Her haunting narratives move us to laughter or despair through the dark glass of the psyche revealed in all its messiness and contradiction to the socialization that cloaks and covers truths that she unveils for us. This is a book worth reading for both its psychological insights and its poetry. The poet, crafty and cunning, is bound to her emotions; yet her poems, the work of an independent spirit, are rendered lively and urgent by her intelligence.

 

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2002 The Cortland Review