April 3, 2012

Gone Sane, a Poetry Collection by Christal Rice Cooper

A big reason why a lot of people write is they’re trying to get out the Bad Gunky (to use Stephen King’s phrase in Lisey’s Story). 

Our bodies are these amazing things that fight and expel foreign and threatening bodies.  From our immune systems that corner and kill viruses and bacteria to slowly working out a splinter or a bullet years later.  Our skin oozes the toxins we ingest, when it can’t come out another way.

It’s no different with our bad experiences and what we witness.  We try to get them out of ourselves, and the more we keep them bottled up the more harm they do.  Crying is one way, and talking or writing about it is another.  We have to get these horrid things ~ war, violence, rape, abuse ~ out of us through our words before they destroy us.

A few days ago, I read the Polish writer Tadeusz Borowski’s short story “This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen,” a horrific account not simply because it’s about Auschwitz under the Nazis but because the narrator is a morally bankrupt lackey.  (Borowski committed suicide after the war at the age of 28, by the way ~ such a contrast to the surviving pictures of him with his shining smile.)

I’m also reading the poetry collection Gone Sane by Christal Rice Cooper.  The collection is a series of biographical poems loosely in the tradition of Edgar Lee Masters Spoon River Anthology. It tells the stories in clear-eyed prose-poetry of a wide range of people ~ from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Sitting Bull to concentration camp victims to victims of serial killers.  Accompanying these poems are skillful and beautiful pencil portraits by Sue Messerly and Renee Sheridan.

It’s the same with these poems.  You get the sense that Christal is trying to get out the Bad Gunky.  Artfully, insightfully, but trying to bear witness to the world’s violences small and large.  She’s a poet, but she’s also a writer for the Asian American Times, where she must’ve covered horrific crimes.  She also has a degree in criminal justice and her husband is in the military.  She bears witness to all these aspects of her life. 

The biographical poems are often very straightforward, more like mini stories than anything else, and I wondered as I read them whether they might have been better served as prose poems or short stories.  However, that could simply be my bias, as I’m a short story writer.  My favorites by far are the poetry that strays from the strictly biographical to generalize a bit more, the ones that more fully take advantage of the form.  But, I can tell you, I’ll be reading and thinking about them for a while because there is a depth there, even in the seemingly straightforward ones, that keep me thinking.

So, for your enjoyment, here’s one of my favorites.

Return of the Men

by Christal Rice Cooper

They are men bent
on death, and life
with dents.
In armor –
some on two feet
or one.  Praised
like the long ago man who
rode into a village
on a poor man’s ass.
No palm leaves here,
but flags.
Red. White. Blue.
They limp along the road,
their cracked and filthy feet
kissing the lukewarm street.


Brent Stratford said...

Hi Tamara,

I am an aspiring writer with my own blog, that no one follows. I was thrilled when someone commented on my blog. Turns out it was a chain subscription type thing on blogs and I realized that I needed to reach out and follow other writers.

I enjoyed today's post. I find writing very cathartic. In my post A terrifying revelation (http://brentsbabblings.blogspot.com/2011/10/terrifying-revelation.html) I talk about some of the issues I came face to face with in my last project.

Thanks for sharing. I'll be lurking around your blog in the future.

Tamara said...

Dear Brent,

Thank you so so much for stopping by!

That's one of the things I love about having a blog and being on Facebook and all that ~ I can find My People, you know?! One thing you might think about doing is to post a note on any social networking sites when you put up a new post, something not too promo-sapiens. I take it as a favor when writer friends do that because I'm more likely to click over.

Are you on FB or G+ or TW? Please friend me!

I'll lurk back. :-)