Review by Barry Silesky
It is an exploration of sources, where the persona is by turn "the woman as wrongly treated/as the Nez Perce Indian," "the lonely poet" who "speaks into the darkness/in the voice of W.C. Fields," "The tramping American/revolutionary," W.C. Williams' Flossie, at least indirectly Williams himself, "a whore/wearing a hat with oriental frankincense/and money tucked/in the seams/ ... a singing sailor in jail ... /a poor cowboy," and "Hamlet of Brooklyn"; in short, the Whitmanesque American Everyman, 1980's version.
Owens resists Whitman's penchant for the grandiose, however, preferring instead a rhetoric that takes into account the complexities of experience, and renders them convincingly. For her, poetry is "the essential nucleus/of the sphere of human/existence"; and not surprisingly a central aspect of her experience is her relation with language and imagination: "The text is behind/the revolution/desperate with imagination/eyelids, the bodily organs,/analytic, figure-making/The solid family-tree." The ongoing work is the difficult coming to terms with the sprawling landscape these elements inhabit: "My voice is a prolonged/ muscular twitch thick/as an elephants trunk/When will I develop/into a form?"
There's no real answer to that question, nor any resolution to the difficulties the poem engages, except the poem itself. It can be a frustrating condition; but that, as they say, is life -- which is what the best poetry always is. This is genuinely interesting and challenging work; it deserves more attention than it will probably get.
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Copyright © 1996 by Barry Silesky.
Light and Dust @ Grist Mobile Anthology of Poetry.