The Cortland Review

William Palmer
An interview and reading with William Palmer. Grace Cavalieri hosts this special one-hour program.

Charles Harper Webb
  "The Pleasure of Their Company: Voice and Poetry," an essay on the personal in the poem.

Charles Harper Webb
  5 New poems

Miles A. Coon
  A review of Desire Path, four chapbook-length collections by Myrna Goodman, Maxine Silverman, Meredith Trede and Jennifer Wallace, with a foreword by Thomas Lux.

Tony Hoagland
  "To Tell the Truth: Tony Hoagland Through Three Collections of Poems,"
a review by Ginger Murchison

Miles A. Coon

Miles A. CoonMiles Coon is Founder and Director of the Palm Beach Poetry Festival. His work has appeared in Rattapallax, Lumina, BigCityLit, Long Island Quarterly, and the anthologies Key West: A Collection (White Fish Press, 2001) and Never Before: Poems about First Experiences, edited by Laure-Anne Bosselaar (Four Way Books, 2005). He received his MFA from Sarah Lawrence College in 2002
Desire Path: A Book Review By Miles Coon

Photo Poems by Myrna Goodman, Maxine Silverman, Meredith Trede and Jennifer Wallace.  68 pages.  Available at Toadlily Press, Chappaqua, New York, 2005

Desire Path: "a term used by landscape architects for the informal walkway people make by cutting across a public grassy space. . . rather than using routes officially laid out and paved."

Desire Path is a volume of poems consisting of four separate chapbook-length collections written by Myrna Goodman, Maxine Silverman, Meredith Trede and Jennifer Wallace, with a foreword by Thomas Lux.

As with any accomplished vocal quartet, each artist makes her own music, but the result is enriched by their singing together. These four poets have been meeting monthly and sharing poems since 1995.

The volume presents the poets in alphabetical order, and, thus, Myrna Goodman leads with her solo, the other three voices waiting in the wings. All four want to be heard; all four sing alone; but the reader should read the book over and over to catch the collective harmonies.

Ms. Goodman's collection, "Some Assembly Required," is full of wit, double-entendres (consider the title), and a longing to restore the innocent past. Her tone is edgy and direct; her concerns—what concerns each of us—loss and memory's losing battle to contain it. Her opening poem, "Kissing Ronnie Kossover," remembers the forties and fifties in America, "Mrs. Wagner's Pies," "Double Bubble," when virginity was the norm, "no hand in her pants, / no jumping to bed." Her poems are full of wordplay and colloquial speech, "a 2 cents plain with a spritz of chocolate syrup." The poems work best when metaphor is allowed to do its work, as in the very short poem, "Amelia" when "what matters most / about the sky, / is that Amelia Earhart / got lost there." Ms. Goodman takes Amelia's desire path as her own. "A Woman in Winter" uses the conditional tense skillfully: "A woman could begin / again—unlike Orpheus // she could look back / and not lose anything. // She could step forward—/ no serpent in sight." Ms. Goodman is Eve, and what is there for Eve to do after Eden? What can be made of our passages through time? Ms. Goodman says in her poem "Rain": "In my dreams, the ladder's always / long enough to reach the clouds; my hand divine enough to turn the tap."

Maxine Silverman's collection is titled "Red Delicious," and her first poem, "Trellis," is a gate swung open to the desire path of her own creative process: "If she fans the leaves of paper lined with tendrils of ink, / pages of iris pulp, bound by flax, / if she breathes lightly unfurling those sheaves // surely she will see her father again. . . ." And in "Cold Snap," she uses image to convey the process even more effectively: "In the bare armature of winter / language takes shape. . ." a couplet that floats in its own stanza in the middle of the poem. Here language does take shape deep in the body of its own sound-making machinery, its economical crystalline heat.

In "Myrna's Moment," Ms. Silverman hears the call of Ms. Goodman's poem, "Moment," and I found myself reading both poems together, as in the call and response of prayer. It turns out that prayer informs much of Ms. Silverman's work, as in "Morning Minyan" and "Days of Awe." Echoes of Gerard Manley Hopkins can be heard in Ms. Silverman's moving lyric, "Song for Breath and Wing Bone":

What was marrow my babies made their own,
oh another song for breath and eggbone,
sweet song of the blood-o, blood-o, another sweet
song for the rose, last of the eggsweet blood.

To repair the loss of this "egg sweet blood," the speaker would have sung 'baruch haba,' yes, and / bless their going, sweet red going-song." The blessing is in the making of the song.

The third section, Meredith Trede's "Out of the Book," is primarily devoted to an eleven-part narrative poem that bears the same title. It is introduced by an explanatory author's note in which the reader is told about two stories: one, the speaker Merry's story that takes place after World War II in New York; and two, the story of Merry, the heroine of the novel, The River Road, by Frances Parkinson Keyes, that takes place after World War I in Louisiana.

The speaker of the poem is "out of the book," and the poem explores the relationship between factual accounts of our lives and the emotional truths contained in their stories. In order to convey the blurry distinction between fact and fiction, each section intertwines the two stories in a different fashion. In the first section, for example, in "Part I 'Hail the Conquering Hero Comes,'" Ms. Trede begins with the speaker's name: "Meredith Randall: Merry / in pet name and spirit. . . . / my father's wishing / and naming for me, from a best-seller / in 1946" and follows with three drop stanzas that skillfully convey information about the 'fictional' Merry and the 'real Merry.' The maker, Merry (no pun intended), emerges here as well, thinking about her father, asking,

How far had he read before
I was born?

and reflecting,

I ache with how much my father wanted
for me, his code so dense, complex. I did
what I could with the script I was offered.

Ms. Trede struggles in this poem to make sense of her life, to order it with coherence, and she looks to the novel that inspired her name as much as to her past for explanation. "Part II 'Come Haste to the Wedding'" devotes ten lines to the Creole wedding story, then five lines to her own wedding story. "Part III 'High, Wide and Handsome'" alternates lines to continue both stories: eight couplets, the first line of each, Ms. Trede's own story; the second, an indented italicized line, the River Road story. The couplets create parallel phases of the two stories, visual clues essential to the sense of this section. Read aloud, one would need to hear it in two voices.

"Part IV 'The Bastard Grain,'" a short poem, reveals with perhaps a bit too much explanation:

                                             crazed blank
from boredom, I read one, two, three books a day,
the fictional lives more real than my own.

The remaining seven parts present the reader with a single short poem; columnar side-by-side prose poems; alternating journal entries written in couplets; a Shakespearian sonnet; an elegy; and two poems in which the weight of the factual past and the weight of the fictional story are varied through the relative number of lines devoted to each.

I admire the imaginative juxtaposition of the two stories, as well as the formal arrangements with which Ms. Trede explores her central concern with truth-telling—how we story our past, how our past stories us. The long poem so dominates the chapbook; however, the three lyric poems that follow are not well served by their inclusion.

Jennifer Wallace, the fourth voice of this vocal quartet, writes, "perhaps we are here to make of earth a minor heaven," and her collection, "A Minor Heaven," attempts to do just that. Her first poem consists of four observations: "Storm," "Seal," "Forest," and "Branch, Drop." In the first she asks, "Whoever said the world should be clear?" And her answer?

Oh, what a day:
when self opens to thickness and the sky
becomes a Motherwell before it pours.

Here art pours into life—art as mother, art as well—the art of Motherwell, not clear, not representational, more akin to heavenly form, but found here on earth, in a minor key. In the poem's final short observation titled "Branch, Drop," Ms. Wallace contemplates a single drop and wonders if it refuses to fall or if the branch holds it. Her answer is an ars poetica:

All that's needed is to open
to the undiscovered room
where the drop—if it fell—
would arrive.

Ms. Wallace, speaking in the voice of the William Carlos Williams' red wheelbarrow, wittily addresses him, and in "Hibiscus," brings us into her flower bed and her shared bed in a sensual, economical and heartbreaking love poem. In "Becoming an Impressionist," she is

                            . . .like Monet
who hoped to paint—not the boats and houses—
but the air in which he found them.

There is a reaching for light and time. The struggle to capture the ineffable, Ms. Wallace tells us, is best exemplified in the "Mark of the Hand," its imperfection, "in my view, perfect."

Ms. Wallace demonstrates how compacted imagery can embody our most personal and, paradoxically, our most universal feelings in "After Our Visit to Bonnard," when

The unrevealed
becomes an ocean in the chest.
Heart, the bird that searches it.

How skillful her use of sound in "Tumor," the poem leaping from warbler to tumor, warbler, father, warbler, tumor, centimeter—the pleasure of sound and the pleasure of surprise beautifully combined here in metaphor.

In "Requiem," comprised of seven short elegiac poems, Ms. Wallace opens herself and us "to the undiscovered room." In "Eternal Light" she asks, "Where are they? / Those who made us more visible. . . ." After a list of observations in which we witness "their" absence, she concludes: "We draw a circle around where they were. / Faith flickers there." It's not clear if faith falters or struggles to stay alive in that absence, an ambiguity startlingly true to this world.

These gorgeous poems are filled with beautiful and compelling lines: In "Day of Reckoning,"

Pinned to the window,
we search for what they took with them:
our fathers' names, the eyes
in which we crouched and flourished.

In "Day of Doubt,"

O cordless bell
where is the shepherd, the sheltering wing?
O Lamb of God. . .
declare yourself by something other than
this leaving, this taking away.

In "Day of Faith,"

What is death but the truth of incompleteness?
An unpicked pear mottles in the grass.
The well fills and unfills.
One early sparrow cannot help but sing.

Each of these four poets dwells in uncertainty and, in their poems, finds solace, wonder and hope in memory, in this earth, in what might lie beyond it, and in the making of art.

For Ms. Goodman, some assembly required; to Ms. Silverman, it's red delicious; Ms. Trede takes meaning out of the book, and Ms. Wallace makes a minor heaven of memory and words.


© 2006 The Cortland Review