Lead, Glass and Poppy
Washington DC: primitive publications, 1996
[WARNING: the Surgeon General has declared that pre-contextualization may be hazardous to your health & literary sensibilities.]
Like Hesiod and Jimi Hendrix before her, Kristen Prevallet is fascinated with cosmic phenomena - asteroids, UFOs, the ends of the world(s). She brings to these interests a penetrating critical intelligence & a multifarious poetic talent. In this chapbook-length short-long poem, as in her previous work (see for example her longish poem "Mad Sarah" in Nedge #4) she manages a balancing act which is crucial to serious poetry, in my view: she pays full due to metaphysics and the religious sense & its human centrality - but counterweights it with a critical awareness of the fallibility (& tragicomic nonsense) of human mythical constructs. What results is a "poetic mythology" which is aware of the global predicament of the present - an historical-political-ecological awareness - infiltrated by a need for faith and its artistic embodiments.
But don't let reviewistic portentousness obscure the reader's sense of the author's humor, wit & style. Her balance of faith/irony is mirrored in a genuine balance of style/material. Many are the poets on the one hand who pour out lugubrious documentary/personal rants; many on the other who are smothered in style: meaningless sound, arbitrary syntax, put-on artiness. Few like Prevallet manage to balance the logic of the theme with the form of the poem. This poem is structured in two columns, divided by the spine of the pamphlet (the "spine" itself becoming a Dantesque symbol of the cosmic-human book of life). On the left hand, the narrator speaks, in a voice which modulates between the oracular & the personal/ demotic. On the right hand, quotations, documentary evidence, which "comment" on the text (& vice versa). I can't replicate this format here, but will provide a couple of excerpts. The poem opens as follows:
[on left side, lines flush to left margin:]Often there is a star comes down from the blue and lands in the deepest part where a heart and the flesh that beats it out in a trickle of daylight and ash does conspire to hold all flying things "sacred" as bombs and Eros collide with the same surface and mark their intent with an obliteration elemental as fire but not as blood-soaked-through with disasters and near losses not of faith but of what faith has become now that the object of sacrifice is not fit for the faint of heart because it is real. [on the right hand side:] When Comet Hyakutake streaked close to earth last week, a German scientific spacecraft made a discovery that has astonished and puzzled astrophysicists. The comet was emitting X-rays in a crescent pattern on its sunward side. (1) The dead, 13 adults and 3 small children, were found in a circle around the remains of a campfire, laid out on the bare ground in a sunburst pattern.(2) [all the sources are footnoted]This is the first page. The poem moves into a contemplation of global/ apocalyptic reality; there is an American sense of the steep folly & intense absurdity of religious enthusiasm yoked to an understanding of faith as a conceptual necessity. There is an underlining of sacrifice and mob violence at the roots of social organization which draws perhaps on the anthropology of Rene Girard. The news clips & funny/weird ritual/astronomical information give the poem a paradoxical realism. The poem's title refers to materials in painter Anselm Kiefer's massive "Angel of History", a sculpture-painting of a huge corroded bomber (now in the D.C. National Gallery) which expresses a parallel sense of apocalyptic/historical doom & pathos. Yet the poem ends on a note of survival-through-understanding which is the conceptual motor of the work's entirety.
All and all, this reporter is energized by the poem's combined breadth of vision & concise, unpretentious style. I'd like to quote more but maybe somebody else will. Get ahold of this little gem of an atmospheric anomaly radar consternation. Oh, by the way - the Martians have landed in New Jersey. Stay tuned. - Henry Gould