Befallen by K. Alma Peterson
Reviewed by Kerri Buckley

By K. Alma Peterson
Propaganda Press
Saddle-stapled chapbook, 40 pages

Link to purchase


Propaganda Press is the not-for-profit small press portion of the Alternating Current Arts Co-op that helps writers with an outlet for inexpensive publishing and distributing. They have a variety of chapbooks, and Befallen by K.Alma Peterson seems to be a charming choice, like a cup of tea -- soothing, comforting, interesting. A tiny chapbook, quarter-sized, saddle stapled, with cover artwork by Carolyn Ellingson, Befallen is listed on the Propaganda Press site ( as a “Poetry chapbook of nature, abstract moments of life.” That’s true, but there’s so much more to say. Peterson writes about the mysteries of life, stars, constellations, planets, myth, symbols, and mixes it all with the mystery of humanity at its most common -- sister-in-laws, bank tellers, fragile necks, brothers and roses named Barb. I was sold with a quote by Chopin, and the small poem that pays tribute to him. Her poems took a few days to take in, but like small charms on a bracelet, they jangled in my mind while I did chores, wrote lists, drove to the store. Always a good sign.

Her poetry is indeed abstract, and expressionistic. Her modes are consistent; lines that are grooved with spaces that allow room for breath within the line (with a distinct nod to poet Craig Arnold), and a prose poem for good measure. Her poems have been published, or are forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, The New Orphic Review, Perihelion Review, Wicked Alice, ArtWord Quarterly, qarrtssiluni, and Skidrow Penthouse. This chapbook announces Ms. Peterson’s arrival.

Consider Part One of the title poem:

 For the world so loved itself     coming daily into light

 the finish line of any sight beginning over     there
 where it isn’t such a stretch to think of truth as light

 and in so thinking come to see yellow as much a part
 as blue when it comes to green     a grasshopper stirred up
 amid yarrow and thistle disappears for one prismatic

 blink     risen say the sunblind

Ms. Peterson is a graduate of the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. She has educated herself, clearly, and has ended up with a knack for sound. One of her poems “Between Us” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Though these poems are intimate, and there is some autobiographical material, what exists of that is purely for the sake of poetry, as in this excerpt from “Constellation,” the first poem of the book:

 I wasn’t meant to be in a family but there I was
 between two brothers     Rue and Woe
 and parents with three reasons to divide

The poet has a fascination with the night sky. “We Will Join Luster and Constellate” sounds sensual and sexy; sexual tension marries with a sadness, a submission, and the sublime. This is one of the finest in this chapbook, with its sound and rhythm and imagery, coupled up with her style and her voice, not quiet, just disquieting enough to dangle in the reader’s mind.

In the odd and quirky “Transitory Parficulates Become I Ching Hexagrams 57 and 59,” word choices such as “frost the floozy,” “darken the beery” and “found in the wavewash” delight as much as they imply intoxication, carelessness and youth. Then, “a mirror begins to spackle,” “magnetic as road dust,” “with peanut butter she presses her grief next utterance ferrous.....sticky with riddance” suggests something altogether different, a hardening, a loss, loss of ability to communicate except in the same incoherent syllables of youth, something iron or age does not take as kindly to, or smile upon.

Though I contemplated a few days on her use of space and form, Ms. Peterson’s poetry has form in the most fun way; it’s whimsical, really, and it’s worth following its trail. Perhaps the most feminine, formal, and seductively rhythmic poem here is her variation on the villanelle, with slant-rhymes, mixed metaphors, metonymy, onomatopoeia, and the poet’s amazing, alternating alliteration in  “Undiminished:”

 In the shallows the furrowed brain coral reports
 its deathwash to the scoured beach     sea fans
 snapped off     sea whips     lacy delicate sorts

 confirm the incremental cruelty of watercourse
 over and against the grooves   thinkless pans
 wherein our coral brains to shallow resort

 rockslap     foam fringe gathers waveworn
 in backchannels    while the pendant sea fans
 whip delicately and snap the likes of us shorn

 who’d leave them in their morgue   but of course
 we fill our pockets to the sagging end
 the furrowed brain coral over eons the corpses
 smooth and blacken     far-off depositors
 clog the Caribbean sink     laughing you contend
 the snappish whips don’t require a lacy form

 so against your blistered mouth the sugar calciforms
 happily you’ve feasted since cane knows when
 our furrowed brains is hallowed ruts of dead coral
 snap to    the indelicate sea sailwhips the racy sort

The music of this poem is a superb surprise. You can hear the waves, see the foam wash up, feel the sea fans snap, smell the salt in the air, and somewhere within the sound of this scene, people are making love.

Titles of her poems are evocative and playful. They include “The Squid Reconsiders its Approach,” “Relationship With Picnic Motifs,” “Light Metal Romance,” “Inner Ear Math,” and “Material Fabrications of the Wooly Bully,” and the mournful and melancholy “Stand of Pines Admits No Gust Is Too Sorrowful or Pitched.”

Finally, mentioned before, her poem in praise of Chopin continues with the style and form prevalent in this book, and it captures something authentic of the pianist -- his weaknesses and strengths, as well as those of the narrator. It’s worth spotlighting, and is a perfect finale for a review on the first chapbook of K. Alma Peterson. Hopefully, she’s got more of the same elegant music and whimsy to offer us, soon. 

       “--silence -- you could scream --
                there would still be silence”
         -- Frederic Chopin


 About-face in the weather     a pale man in need of luxury
 stiffens and begins to cough among the palms and figs

 Picture him partaking of the whole plant     hood-shaped
    purple sepals
 flowers of a dark blue color in erect clusters
 glossy leaves deeply divided     numerous stamens at the
 lie depressed     a single seed in each carpel
 an undeveloped fruit despite their anthers angled toward
       the coming bees

 It might be natural to picture his companion roughly
 building them a latewood fire that smoked outwardly
           I tell my piano things I used to tell you
 While she took the auspices of trees     he stationed
 you may imagine me, without gloves or haircurling, as
    pale as ever,
 in a cell with such doors as Paris never had for gates

 her adversarial bone lodged and cochlear     color of a note
 darkening like heartwood in the drying room     the
    spiral grain
 adaptive of the rocky cliffs

 Let them guess why in a quiet setting     named for and
 from that stray religioso as he clears a path between

 indulgent thoughts   one note would flourish in the mind-
 parade     stir in him a kind of come-upon double

 the way a medium enters her own voice loop as it’s
    ringing off
 the rim     the bowl of water she implored fill her inner

 with spiral unadulterated nerve
--“The Teller Has Her Chopin Well in Trance”


Reviewed by Kerri Buckley.
Poets’ Quarterly | October 2009.

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