Skip to main content

Guest Review: Hymas on Uschuk

Sarah Hymas reviews
by Pamela Uschuk

All four sections of Crazy Love, the new collection from American poet Pamela Uschuk, are equally exuberant in their exploration of subjects: be that journeying, friendship, love, death, or war. Her language has a fecundity matched only by the natural world she immerses herself in and which she sees growing within the rest of us too:
"… how your mind howls like a coyote
in a desert terrorized by memory."

At first I felt I might be overwhelmed by the richness, the heightened detail of the world Uschuk inhabits, but the informality of her delivery, the regard and attention to everyday encounters, keeps the poems low-key and insistent rather than hyperbolic.
            Which is crucial given the political nature of many the poems – the deviations via Vietnam, slavery, Iraq, feminism are irregular but frequent excursions from the more didactic subjects of her autobiography. And for the most part these deviations locate the poems in its time, place them the wider context of territory (the conflict for physical, emotional and social territory being the subtext throughout). This is a collection very much of its time (published 2009), with America steeped in foreign war.
In 'White Moths' 'the surgical scar /grin of the President' appears among moths that are fragile, stale, and ultimately vanishing, perfectly tying the flickery nature of moth with the smile, and finally coffin flags. This is a cohesive, authentic poem. As are the ones that are set in domestic situations: dinner and the view from a window; where the external imagery of war and environmental disasters are married to the players in the poems, affecting them remotely. As they are in life.
Sometimes, however, the diversions feel more forced, such as the poem 'Planting Tigritas After Snow in April' which begins "Like a Lear jet out of control, wind shears…" and then no more fighter imagery in a poem that turns out to be about marriage and growth. If it's out of control, what are the consequences? Surely more impactful than tulip flowers? It lessens the power of such imagery when it is used more potently elsewhere in the collection. And reduces the intensity of the meditation on planting.

The most successful poems for me are the more intimate, less ambitious ones, declarations to parents, descriptions of time spent with friends and loved ones, that still roll down the page like the Colorado River, in a litany of creatures, flowers, myths, film and personal incidents, but hold the emotional impetus tightly throughout the unravelling, the poem plays off between being huge and painfully private at the same time, as our deepest emotions are:
"Today is your birthday Dad, and what heads
for me is memory's long smoulder
damp as campfire coals
on a star-spidered Michigan beach
where somewhere offshore your voice bells"
Uschuk clearly loves her country to the point of horror at what it is doing in other countries, and balances these emotions throughout the book. It is a complex business being a citizen of any country, especially one so beautiful, diverse and so demanding of loyalty.
There is so much of America in this collection: so many of the states as well as references to where America has fought, it amazes me that Uschuk has the time to cover such ground both physically and then again emotionally and metaphorically. But her passion is evident. Her greed for experience and generosity for sharing it runs through the book, sustains it and will probably sustain many many more.
2 comments

Popular posts from this blog

DANGER, MAN

Like a crazed killer clown, whether we are thrilled, horrified, shocked, or angered (or all of these) by Donald Trump, we cannot claim to be rid of him just yet. He bestrides the world stage like a silverback gorilla (according to one British thug), or a bad analogy, but he is there, a figure, no longer of fun, but grave concern.

There has long been a history of misogynistic behaviour in American gangster culture - one thinks of the grapefruit in the face in The Public Enemy, or Sinatra throwing a woman out of his hotel room and later commenting he didn't realise there was a pool below to break her fall, or the polluted womb in Pacino'sScarface... and of course, some gangsta rap is also sexist.  American culture has a difficult way with handling the combined aspects of male power, and male privilege, that, especially in heteronormative capitalist enclaves, where money/pussy both become grabbable, reified objects and objectives (The Wolf of Wall Street for instance), an ugly fus…

AMERICA PSYCHO

According to the latest CBS, ABC, etc, polls, Clinton is still likely to beat Trump - by percentile odds of 66% to 33% and change. But the current popular vote is much closer, probably tied with the error of margin, around 44% each. Trump has to win more key battleground states to win, and may not - but he is ahead in Florida...

We will all know, in a week, whether we live in a world gone madder, or just relatively mad.

While it seems likely calmer heads will prevail, the recent Brexit win shows that polls can mislead, especially when one of the options is considered a bit embarrassing, rude or even racist - and Trump qualifies for these, at least.

If 42-45% of Americans admit they would vote for Trump, what does that say about the ones not so vocal? For surely, they must be there, as well. Some of the undecided will slide, and more likely they will slide to the wilder and more exciting fringe candidate. As may the libertarians.

Eyewear predicts that Trump will just about manage to win th…

SEXTON SHORTLIST!

Announcing the Shortlist for the 2016 Sexton PrizeSeptember 13, 2016 / By Kelly Davio
Eyewear Publishing is pleased to announce the shortlist for the 2016 Sexton Prize. The finalists are, in no particular order, as follows:


THE BARBAROUS CENTURY, Leah Umansky
HISTORY OF GONE, Lynn Schmeidler
SEVERE CLEAR, Maya Catherine Popa
GIMME THAT. DON’T SMITE ME, Steve Kronen
SCHEHERAZADE AND OTHER REDEPLOYMENTS, David McAleavey
AN AMERICAN PURGATORY, Rebecca Gayle Howell
SIT IN THE DARK WITH ME, Jesse Lee Kercheval

The shortlist was selected by Eyewear’s Director Todd Swift with Senior Editor Kelly Davio. Don Share of Poetry Magazine will select the winning manuscript, which will be released at the 2017 AWP conference in Washington, D.C. The winner will be announced in October. 
Congratulations to our finalists!