Friday, June 9, 2017

Blueline, SUNY Potsdam Literary Review, 2017

  Just released review of Small Worlds Floating~
 Blueline, SUNY Potsdam Literary Review, 2017

Small Worlds Floating. M.J. Iuppa. Cincinnati, OH: Cherry Grove Collections, 2016.
Reviewed by Nancy Berbrich

“Why do I only get one lifetime? Where did this lifetime go?” asked Margaret Atwood in March this year when she accepted a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle. She is not alone in her dismay. All but the very young think about the shortness of life from time to time. M.J.Iuppa explores this very human push of life and pull of death in her 2016 poetry collection Small Worlds Floating.
The book begins with the poem, “Early morning sky, brimming effervesce, eager,” where Iuppa introduces the reader to the major theme running throughout her book. She writes,

                                             I stare at myself
in the picture window’s reflection, slightly
startled by the ghost of me rising
in its slippery surface.

  Here she is slightly startled, bumping up against her ghost.  I’ve seen my own distorted image in that
  glass, and have turned away, trying to ignore it. However, this poet stares at it, captures the moment,  
  the surprise of it, and compels me to look again. Later in the book, her mortality grows more 
  palpable.   In “Beneath the Black Willow” the poet writes,

Amazing, amazed
we look hard at each other,
at our age
What year is it?

We stare at each other
a swell of sound, cresting
What year is it?
And, in “This Upheaval of Light,” we experience again the startling way that mortality sneaks up on us,
So we pause dumbstruck by
the hour, like dapple gray horses

…we can’t
believe that this is as short lived
as we are—small motions—

leaves trembling.

In this collection of more than sixty lyric poems, Iuppa brings to bear her adept use of the poet’s techniques and her keen poet’s eye. The cycle of life is everywhere. In this passage from “Eternity,” we see the poet’s tools and talent at work as she brings images alive embodying the theme in an observation of nature and its landscape:

The blistered barn door creaked open a crack
and blue wasps, with dabs of mud in their mouths,
repaired the tombs found under eaves.

I smelled bitterness of basil gone to seed—
watched the ether of dark clouds crown
in tender offering—wondered if this could be it. 

She uses allusion to deepen and layer meaning into her poems. These lines from “Looking Back”
loud as the brass sun breaking
through the sky’s old plaster, light
falling like glitter, sparkling

 remind me of lines from Robert Frost’s “Birches”:

Soon the sun's warmth makes them shed crystal shells
Shattering and avalanching on the snow-crust—
Such heaps of broken glass to sweep away
You'd think the inner dome of heaven had fallen.

The idea of the swinging pull toward death then back toward life then back toward death is apparent in both Frost’s poem as well as Iuppa’s collection. And, I couldn’t help but notice how the poet describes the look of a child waiting at a bus stop in “To the small child holding a balloon.”
a beat, making the balloon bob

in punctuation above your head,
marking the spot where you are,
with strangers wanting to go home.

This reminded me of how the delightfully experimental Kurt Vonnegut put an asterisk before the name of a character who would die before sundown in his 1985 novel, Galápagos.
Insomnia, thoughts of those who have passed on before, and even the yearning for death as a beautiful rest are addressed in these poems. All are part of coming to terms with our own looming mortality. Then there is the regret at the so many things that must be left undone. Iuppa articulates it in “Awakened, hours before dawn, rain”:

Nightmares flower
in the glacial dark.

Nothing put away,
or finished—the corner

She expresses similar feelings in these lines from “Interview”:

I wanted to improve what I say
I can see—the last days of winter,
nearly gone in the precision of rain—

Fittingly, “Interview” concludes this fine collection: as Iuppa explains in the poem, “I work by memory / and struggle to perfect a story / beneath a calm surface.” In the hands of a lesser poet, these moments, these poems could be maudlin, even depressing. But I feel like this poet has put her arm around me and helped me look and see. She has left me “leaning forward open-eyed.”

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