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Saturday, July 29, 2017

Susan Slaviero of Blue Fifth Review has written a review on my recent poetry collection Kiss/Hierarchy (Rain Mountain Press 2016). First of all, just read the review for her wonderful writing in and of itself (I've posted it below), but I truly appreciated her intelligent, careful look at my poems. This is what we poets always feel blessed to receive--that someone slowed down long enough to really take in the world on the page we are trying to offer. The review was published on June 17, 2017 in the Spring Quarterly issue of Blue Fifth Review. It references some of my more cinematic poems, so I'll start with a photo of Theresa Wright, the female protagonist coming of age in the rather murky world of middle class America that Hitchcock depicts in his 1943 thriller: Shadow of a Doubt. The review follows this photo.

Quarter Notes: Essays, Reviews, Interviews

Review: Susan Slaviero on Alexandra Van De Kamp’s Kiss / Hierarchy

Kiss / Hierarchy by Alexandra Van De Kamp
Rain Mountain Press, 2016
87 pages
The poems in Alexandra Van De Kamp’s Kiss / Hierarchy offer a cinematic view of the passion to be found in both art and ordinary days. This collection invites us to revisit the past while longing to live fully in the present. Ultimately it demonstrates “How to Survive Yourself” by being “grateful for the small survivals: the dimple of blue the bluebird / flies through—that slit in the day, that vial of violet.”
Van De Kamp’s work is especially effective in the way it reflects our “neglected interiors” back at us. We are the creators of our own story. How real are the stories we tell? We cannot fully believe our own tales, as “the mind is always on trial.” These experiences are not as large as we believe: somehow, they are both larger and smaller. However all-encompassing the story may seem, the rest of the world continues to move about at a frenetic pace.
Van De Kamp often uses images of art or film to reflect this, as in her poem “Dear Key Largo” where “the wind ignores / the plot unfolding inside and tosses / the palm trees around like dice.” She draws a parallel between film and the stories of our lives. Both are told from a specific viewpoint. Looking at the story from another point of view can change everything.
In “Dear Teresa Wright” she admonishes us:
            Watch how preconceptions shift
            and tumble: newspaper clippings,
            the library—ivy-covered and panic-
            stricken—with its turrets and lit windows
            going out one by one.
Are we too concerned with the plot, missing out on the lyric beauty of individual moments? As the speaker in “Dear A-” asks, “Do plots end up like cities, a little fed up / with themselves?”
Kiss / Hierarchy is a book of poems that invites us to investigate the small, elegant moments that fall between the dramatic ones. It’s a powerful collection of work that asks us to explore the tension between the artist and the listener / viewer.
Van De Kamp expands upon the mundane, shows us how all things hide a history of the extraordinary, whether she is writing about an ordinary apple or describing the trace elements found in the color blue. These poems are concerned with what we retain in our memories, as “invisible, succulent slippages; / each life a seam in a silk stocking snagging unexpectedly.”
In “A History of Apples” she writes, “This is not a novel, but it is the beginning of a history, / a groggy, personal tract.” So too, her collection of poems mirrors one’s personal history. We question what we know, what we recall: “Will I die without ever remembering / the exact first apple I placed in my mouth—was it red (I wrote read) / or as bright as a green grape?” The speaker ruminates on the imprecision of language, how it fails to fully capture our recollections and experiences:
            See how easily geographies and facts drop away,
            like the exact color of my mother’s house, being repainted as I speak.
            We argue over whether to call it buff or shell, as if the name will change
            the color.
This imperfect recall is what makes us human. It colors our lives and makes them unique and worthy of examination. A perfect memory could be a curse, as described at the end of “Dear A-”
                                       thank god I am not
            the boy in the Borges short story
            who can never forget anything—his body
            teetering on stone walls, his mind
            tallying and tallying.
In Kiss / Hierarchy, Alexandra Van De Kamp welcomes us into her “lurid fairy tale” where even the most ordinary items—such as nightgowns—are woven with esoteric language and unexpected imagery: “crying stars,” “a cage of syllables,” “a rain of hums.”
Her writing seeks to capture the fragments that make up our lives, whether watching an old film, traveling the world, or coming home from that trip to find vermin in the kitchen sink. There is beauty in these juxtapositions. In “Upon Returning From Our Tenth Anniversary Vacation,” she writes of “dunes and their slender paths” and “the sunset like watermelon running / its pale juice down the sky,” this lovely, fleeting time to be replaced by “small cruelties…the cruelty of not knowing how to handle a half-dead / bat, hunkered down in the drain.” There is something powerful in these small cruelties.
Even moments which aren’t pretty are to be valued. We realize how much we love the man we watched kill an injured animal—an act both brutal and merciful. Van De Kamp tells us there is much to consider, even in head colds and mammograms, for the body is a “terrain / the radiologist caresses / with her eyes and mind.”
We fall in to Kiss / Hierarchy and navigate “the mind’s dark hesitations.” These poems resonate in our mirrors, gardens, vacation photos and x-rays, leaving us to wonder if we have still have time to “kiss / … [our] way through to… [our] own truth.”
Susan Slaviero is the author of CYBORGIA, a full length poetry collection published by Mayapple Press. Recent chapbooks include Selections from the Murder Book (Treelight Books), A Wicked Apple (Hyacinth Girl Press) and Apocrypha (Dancing Girl Press). Her work has been awarded a Pushcart Prize as well as two Best of the Net Awards and she has been published in journals such as RHINOSouth Dakota ReviewArsenic LobsterJet Fuel Review, and elsewhere. She lives and writes in a suburb just outside of Chicago.
Alexandra van de Kamp lives in San Antonio, TX, and is the Creative Writing Classes Program Director for Gemini Ink, a literary arts nonprofit. She also teaches intensive online poetry workshops through The Poetry Barn. She is the author of The Park of Upside-Down Chairs (CW Books 2010), and several chapbooks, including Dear Jean Seberg (2011), which won the 2010 Burnside Review Chapbook Contest, and A Liquid Bird inside the Night (Red Glass Books 2015). She has been published in numerous journals nationwide, such as Denver QuarterlyConnecticut Review, and The Cincinnati Review. For six years she lived in Madrid, Spain, where she co-founded and edited the bilingual journal, Terra Incognita.