Issue > Book Review

Clara Burghelea

Ruth Danon's latest poetry collection, Word Has It, was published by Nirala in March, 2018. Her previous book, Limitless Tiny Boat, was published by BlazeVox in the fall of 2015. Ruth is also the author of Living with the Fireman (Ziesing Brothers, 1981), Work in the English Novel, (Croom-Helm, 1985), and Triangulation from a Known Point (North Star Line, 1990). Her poetry, prose and nonfiction appeared in The Florida ReviewTupelo QuarterlyPost RoadNoonVersalMeadBOMBThe Paris ReviewFenceThe Boston Review3rd BedCrayon, and many other publications in the US and abroad. Her poems were selected by Robert Creeley for Best American Poetry, 2002 and also appeared in several anthologies: Noon: An Anthology of Short Poems (Isobar Press, 2019), Eternal Snow (Nirala, 2017) and Resist Much, Obey Little (Spuyten Duyvil, 2017).

Clara Burghelea is a Romanian-born poet with an MFA in Poetry from Adelphi University. Recipient of the Robert Muroff Poetry Award, her poems and translations appeared in Ambit, HeadStuff, Waxwing and elsewhere. Her collection The Flavor of The Other is scheduled for publication in 2019 with Dos Madres Press. She is the current Poetry Editor of The Blue Nib.

Clara Burghelea reviews "Word Has It" by Ruth Danon

Word Has It
Word Has It
by Ruth Danon

85 pages
Nirala Publications

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Ruth Danon's third full-length book of poetry, Word Has It, cumulates her experiences as a poet, a teacher and a human being, tying the political to the personal, the seen to the unseen, the obvious to the imperceptible. Her preoccupation with the various aspects of structure -narrative, musical, thematic- as well as her attention to details from the previous work is also mirrored in Word Has It.

This is, aptly, an impressive collection concerned with empowering words and readers alike, while maintaining a focus on the intricacies of the poet's apprehensive mind. At times, dark and sensual, the collection zigzags from the public to the personal space, documenting change.

Ruth Danon also explores the tension between place and identity in her collection. The poems are divided into three sections: "I: Rumor, Murmur," "II: Every Room in the House," and "III: Divination." These are bound together by the power of words and the way they can influence, impact, mislead, trick the mind and the eye, alike.

The first section opens with "Interruption", a poem that sets off the tone of the collection and the expectations of readers. Change is the only permanent, certain thing and it is not always bound to deliver good things. The train or the boat are vehicles for transformation and transportation alike, their fluctuation, an echo of the poet's uncertainty. Transition from poem to poem is done with a shift in register, from formal to conversational, in different instances where word is part of an idiom, suggesting its frequent use.

"The Gates" ends the first section of Word Has It and speaks of duty, defining it as "that which must be paid." In the poet's vision, we have to pay for our choices, personal and political, and the book is very much concerned with those mistakes and those payments. It makes reference to the madness surrounding the 2016 presidential elections and the way some took them lightly, a choice that came back to haunt them.

There is both pattern and variation in the book which help build the narrative arc. The collection has a very precise unfolding from premonition; the first foreboding section to dark outcome in the third one where the poet speaks of prophecy. In the speaker's mind, words can act as triggers but also draw an alarm signal, putting the body into a state of alarm. When the body freezes, goes numb or simply vanishes, the speaker says: "The body gone, there is only language". (17) Words have the power to strike, lift or crumble to pieces.

The poet's words hold on to a certain musicality that, despite the ominous touch, resonates with the reader. For instance, "An Act of Faith in a Simple Time" reflects the lack of logic and a sense of conspiracy permeates the lines. However, the image of the poet "twirling/ the stem of a wine glass, pretending to/ drink pinot noir" retains a certain familiar beauty against the distress and suspicion of the rest of the poem (18).

The same anxiety inhabits "The Joke", where a man goes batshit and there is an audience that finds it laughable, as well as a writer who refers to it as "high hilarity" (33). It is again an illustration of misbelief, a world where laughter is a manner of puncturing the level of paranoia.

What is to be done when uncertainty grabs you? People return to whatever defines them, trying to get a hold of their life and senses, picking up the pieces. Thus, the middle section of the collection and the transitional poems at the beginning of the third section attend to this fragmentation. It is a return to the world of human connection.

"What will I carry with me

as I move from room to room?

What will I pick up? What

will I set down

on the quiet ledge of the mantel?" (49)

The personal saves the speaker once again and even if they leave domesticity behind in the central section, comfort is temporarily found in the familiar space.

The collection ends with a prose poem about the forty-nine people who died in the Pulse massacre, a reminder of how easily we slip down the path of doubt and harm. The synchronicity of numbers -the number of victim and the exact numbers of birds in the sky- is a mystery that only love can solve. In the end, there is a triumph of love over disaster, and hope in the way the collection ends. The vulnerability and risk inherent to love are measured through words and translated into this marvelous collection.

 

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