DOWN SPOOKY by SHANNA COMPTONALLEN BRAMHALL Reviews
Down Spooky by Shanna Compton
(Winnow Press, 2005)
I'll start with voice, which can be a theoretical pressure point, I suppose. we all hate the 'I' that seems battened to preposterous assertions and singleminded expansions. we readers hate that because we know better. or think that we do. we know the poet lives in a world including, basically, us. we may even be reading along. that's why I like Shanna's inclusive pronouns, we and you. “If we do not engage, we are sequoia-like.” the poems are conversational and relational. not confessional like that, but simply in a place where the voice carries. “What belongs to us are these units of linguistic structure and as much as they can hold.”
writing poems, of course, acts within or upon these linguistic structures. “Yes, they're trees. But try not to think of it that way.” the poems are structures but not walled citadels. the poet kindly leaves the door open. yet it is not a museum tour, or if it is, it is interactive. these units of linguistic structures hold as much as they can. yes, I had to use emphasis. they are shifty units at best.
what I just wrote (flailing, no doubt, would be the right descriptor) may be too metaphorical to be of use. but what of a poem that begins with these lines:
“To my dear and loving head wound
there is no beautiful mountain
anywhere near where you were born.”
imagining that there were a pretty mountain there (“instead of woods and marsh gas/instead of dualie pick up trucks”), this assertion:
“You would have climbed it first of all.
I would have too, to meet you.”
and there the poem (“Contraposto”) ends. I like this meeting in the elected space. it strikes me as the poem process for Shanna: arriving at a place, and coming to terms. a poem is not a poet, as we all the time forget. this poem is a picture of voice in the air, and integration. that sounds like something trundling from a thesis done for the most dour prof, yet let us agree that we seek a warming comfort, even a vindication of just finding a place to stand. poetry does that for me, anyway. not solely, but oftenest. it's why you can point to Frank O'Hara's work and say, there's someone. meaning not him, but a poem. a poem can be a report from the headwinds, carrying within earshot. a poem communicates, even if much of the time it looks like it doesn't want to. not statements, but kindly related entrances to the next step. as we go on together, that is, writer, reader, and the poem itself.
Shanna's poems twist on a wit as they work their way home: “Must we be perpetually ON THE AIR? The best answer I can give is No Ma'am. I can't believe I said that either.” I don't find a glibness here, despite the ease of these works. I see a recognition of the shifty ground upon which she walks, upon which we all walk. definite statements aren't poetic, unless they turn on a dime: no things but ideas.
okay then. perhaps you see that my strategy here is invitational. same as the poems themselves. poems change with different light. I only want to suggest their working processes here, not the proposed, inferred message beam from the most recent reading. I'd like you to try these poems because they want to be with you. I mean, you can graph different notions of vigour--for instance, I think you can discern some feminist clarity here--but I don't want to enclose these poems too carefully. their process seems just, and they brim with pleasures to be had, pleasure like a loving head wound. I should think that would prove tempting, dear Reader.
Allen Bramhall: My exciting biography includes anticipating the spring publication of my double-wide opus Days Poem, Volumes One and Two, by Meritage Press, and conferral of Masters Degree from Lesley University in May. Seeking teaching work now.