Issue 2 - Winter 2010
Cities of Flesh and the Dead
Cures and Poisons
How to Live on Bread and Music
Pictures in the Firestorm
Rhapsody of the Naked Immigrants
Rock Vein Sky
Slaves to Do These Things
The Air around the Butterfly
The Guilt Gene
the nested object
Crazy Love, Pam Uschuk’s new poetry collection is just that: crazy love. Each poem is a wild white-water ride down a raging river. In a voice ranging from sparsely narrative to stream of consciousness, Uschuk navigates through a landscape carved from the natural world, ecology, politics, family, and above all, the mysteries of love in all its incarnations. Uschuk is passionately committed to the world she lives in, and her fire burns in every line.
I feel each meditative footfall in the stressed syllables, hear its frozen echo in the still morning resonate with every k sound. In her poem, “Meditations Beside Kootenai Creek,” I enjoy faint stirrings of Pablo Neruda in her plunge into the metaphors of water and her fresh and unexpected pairings of images:
Uschuk was raised in a multi-lingual home, and her language resonates with the sounds and songs of the Slavic tongues she grew up hearing. Her poems constantly surprise, constantly renew, constantly twist and turn along the freshly-blazed trails of her poetic terrain.
In a single poem, Uschuk’s language slips easily between the lyrical, “On diminished wind, tiny moths/white as thin dead lids/navigate the sun’s final rays,” and a brutal realism, “fresh from Baghdad, a slim line of flag-draped coffins/drifts down a Maryland conveyer belt.” In this poem, “White Moths,” the juxtaposition brings home the contrast between war’s harsh reality and a beautiful and meditative moment far away from the front lines. Just as the fighter jet “rips the underbelly of sky,” Uschuk’s words rip open the quiet mood she has created and replace it with a stark image of the cost of war. “Event becomes myth,” Uschuk says in “With Its Toll of Char,” and indeed, in Uschuk’s lines, event becomes myth, myth becomes event – over and over.
Uschuk is equally at home in the narrative voice of “Saving the Cormorant on Albemarle Sound”:
In “Cormorant,” Uschuk tells of saving a cormorant tangled in a net strung across the sound, building narrative tension as skillfully as any storyteller. In “Char,” she creates a dream world. She glides back and forth between the mystical place created by a journey through night fog where “All sounds bassoon in haze” and the image, pinned by her car’s headlights, of a dead fox and her grieving mate by the side of the road.
The natural world is at the core of Uschuk’s poetry; it forms the riverbed over which all her verse flows. Like a tour guide in the back country, she names every bird, every creature, every plant. We journey with her to South Africa, the mountains of Colorado, her childhood home in Michigan, and she paints each place with stunning clarity and loving tenderness.
In every poem, Uschuk spins in her sensual and prayerful world like a dakini, the Tibetan Buddhist goddess of her poem by that name. “Blossoming in Lilith’s Garden” begins:
I am reminded of Bruno Schulz’s wild and fecund landscape in Street of Crocodiles. In both Schulz’s prose and Uschuk’s poetry, a world is created in which one is always somehow unsettled, as if the edges of things are never quite square. In her own life, Uschuk is familiar with a world of unclear boundaries and expectations. Speaking of her mother, who suffered from bipolar disease, Uschuk told Alger, “Our family spun on the tilt-a-whirl of her frequent psychotic episodes.” In the case of her poetry, however, we freely ride the tilt-a-whirl of her language. Although we never quite know where each line will take us, we are glad to be along for the journey.
In the end, it is love that binds together Uschuk’s eclectic collection of poems: love for the natural world, for her husband, William Root, a fellow poet, for her family and all their quirky stories, for, “the stories of those people or creatures who have no voice or whose voices have been suppressed in some way,” as she told Alger. No matter the subject, Uschuk’s poems are filled with prayerful reverence and fiery devotion. In her poem “Motorcycle,” Uschuk ends by asking the question, “What souvenirs of wise/devotion will we leave, scattered like empty boots/for our kids to try on?” She asks similar questions in many of these poems. Love, she affirms, in any of its various incarnations, provides an answer. In “Change of Heart,” a poem for her sister Val, she says, “it is never too late for repair . . .never too late/for a malformed heart to create/a new pathway, opened, loved.” Whatever the cause of our own heart’s malformation, Uschuk’s poetic arms embrace us. Her unabashed passion heals us.
Reviewed by Naomi Benaron.