To Some Women I Have Known. Re'Lynn Hansen. White Pine Press. The Marie Alexander Poetry Series, Volume 19. Buffalo, New York. 2015.
"25 Sightings of the Ivory-billed Woodpecker" is a prose poem in 25 verses that weds anecdotal history of a possibly/likely extinct bird that lived in the swamp land of Louisiana - with a family memoir, a tribute of sorts to a matriarch with ivory qualities.
It reads more like a movie than almost any poem I've read, and I love movies. This was a movie I want to see the poem of. Re'Lynn Hansen's To Some Women I Have Known is a moviehouse filled with the robust lives of women.
If you have read Alice Munro - Re'Lynn Hansen spins a yarn, writes one of these solid poems, in much the same way. These stories swallow you up with their seamless craft.
The Ghost Horse
We were going to get a horse. The horse would give us meaning.
Or a feeling we didn't have sitting in lecture halls during the day or
waiting on tables at night.
We would ride the horse from Illinois to Colorado and meet peo-
ple along the way who would also give us meaning.
Before we went to see the horse, my friend June bought a pair of
English riding boots in butter yellow. She found them at the local
Goodwill, four dollars.
The horse handler had a Gun N'Roses t-shirt and slapped at the
horse's chest. The horse went crazy. He pawed the ground and thesteam from his nostrils hung in the darkened stables.
As soon as June mounted, her boots slid from the stirrups. The
horse was gone like a ghost train, all light and muscle flying past.
And June was a horizontal dash on top of it---frightening and
comical---the stirrups bounced and flew beneath her, useless
apparatus to hook the rider.
There was a sift of snow on the stubbled wheat outside the corral.
I felt the moment pressing upon me, perhaps knew how I would
remember it: whitened girls on a whitened landscape with Ghost
Freakin' sideshow hell horse, the horse handler shouted. The horse
breached the corral, jumped a low gate. The horse-hand ran and
tried to stop him. Whoa! Whoa! Several times the horse handler had
June hung on. The horse slowed himself.
Then for a moment June looked like god on a horse, straight in the
saddle. It was as we had imagined ourselves---we who did not believe
in god, but horses.
The horse handler grasped the reins. June dismounted, and we
walked away. There was a bus stop at the cul-de-sac, before the
fields and stables. Turning back i saw the horse handler standing
there with the reins of the colossal horse, a dejected giant, a Trojan
horse, the Appaloosa, a clown of a horse.
Everything huge and luminous and dying.
Barrie Jean Borich has it right when she suggests that Hansen is all about "the real beauty of this work is in the juxtaposition." Hansen's poem about her grandmother and Mary Todd Lincoln sharing syphilis is a marvelous construction. You don't know whether to laugh, cry or wind your watch - but you are juxtapostitioned into poetic glee.
What makes a prose-poem a poem and not prose? You are going to need a better moderator leading that discussion - but Re'Lynn Hansen knows the secret. These prose-like pages sparkle with poetic with and charm.
Patty Hearst on the Prairie
This is who I was, what the world was like that winter: The Way We
Were was number one at the box office. Barbara Streisand's
"Evergreen" was soon to be our prom song. My friend crashed her
car looking for a roach clip that had fallen under her seat and cried
when Robert Redford appeared in the scene with his white sailor's
To get over her melancholy for Redford, she played "Shining Star"
by Earth, Wind & Fire. We danced in the basement condo of a man
she had a crush on, a weightlifter. He managed the produce section
of the food store where she worked as a cashier. She liked it when
he stood by the cantaloupes.
He was gay, of course, she said. She was known for flippancy. Later,
while painting her toenails and watching Kojak in the bedroom, she
would lament over that--Why do all the men i love have to be gay?
There was a third who circled our lives--Lindsey Buckingham. He
had just hooked up with Stevie Nicks to form Fleetwood Mac. Of
course, my friend lamented.
In the evening in the basement condo--thin carpet and cold
floors, somehow a deep anchor to our talks--we would scream the
words: paradise, snow-covered hills, and landslides.
I did not see Jaws, but I did see Love Story. I went with Martha
Stegner, a tall, thin girl. I thought, Not at all like me. She wore a pea
coat and hat similar to Ali McGraw's.
We both had crushes on Ali, and both dressed as a cross between
her and Ryan O'Neal, wearing Ali-type hats and Ryan-type
On the bus, girls from my senior class mouthed the words to
"Waterloo" streaming from the boom box. All our eyes met the
eyes of strangers getting on the bus.
We were looking for something.
Patty's fiance Steven Ward was beaten
up the night they took Patty.
Patty, Snatched from the Arms of Her Lover, the headlines read.
It was a quiet night in a quiet neighborhood.
Stephen Weed would remember this:
We were watching
Later, Patty would describe it this way:
There was a knock on the door and
then a kidnapping happened.
The next night,
Walter Cronkite "live"
his body slanting over
his newsroom desk,
a close-up of
the tape recorder on his desk.
There, her voice,
disembodied from the tape:
I am a member of a ruling class family
(note from TBOP - this is how the poem starts but it is just a fragment, there are several more pages and I couldn't eat it up fast enough.)
Re'Lynn Hansen is somewhere between perception and deception. Lovely deception. These poems reflect how she wants to see the world as much as how the world really is. She folds the two together as though she were kneading bread dough -- and then gives us finely baked bread.
These poems have lyrical notions and common sense all tied together in a kind of quiet and elegant rapture of memory and desire.
The Drought Just Then
The days were so hot that my roommates June and Harry were
reduced to drinking riesling. We wondered if soldiers in the
Middle East were as hot, carrying their fifty pounds of gear. We
kept the windows open around the clock and watered the sheets
regularly. This was something June's mother had told us to do. She
had grown up on a farm. The trains loomed close and dust came
in. It added to the effect. The apartment was a desert; the damp
mattress, an oasis we lay on. Our conversations were feverish. June
and Harry talked of food and wine all summer. Their jobs as
sommelier and head waitress had influenced the realm of ideas.
Harry thought Cote du Rhone was best with salmon cooked with
capers and zest of lemon. June set forth an elegant argument for
Pouilly Fuisse--chilled, served with caviar spread on rounds of
pumpernickel. She won me over just by saying Pouilly Fuisse ten
times really fast when I asked her to. June told me of her small
daring feminist move: she gives the first pour to the woman at the
table. I imagined women in black dresses, dark hair, leaning back to
swish the Pinot Noirs, Cote du Rhones, Pouilly Fuisses. But the
wine thing only fascinated me for so long. I was reading Crime and
Punishment that summer of the drought, where on a perfectly fine
day, by a perfectly fine man, a woman is murdered. I was convinced
that a tragedy was playing itself out beyond the facade of human
activity. Yes, I agreed with June and Harry: culinary taste was art.
Good art seduces and subverts, Harry was fond of saying, June and
Harry cooked a cool leek soup one night, and we all agreed that it
seduced the hell out of us. We had to drink vodka straight up just
to cut it. then we sat on the floor. On June's old oriental rug we
sipped Grey Goose, and dipped croissants into the silky green and
agreed that nothing else mattered. We'd give our lives for this
moment with leek soup. That was the third thing about great art--
it became its own entity, set its own rules; stepping into it was like
crossing the galaxies as dust. We were so taken by the taste of leeks
and vodka that we nearly forgot about how many had died in the
drought raging across the Midwest just then, and the war in the
Middle East was a tincture. For once, it was not enormous work,
as it usually was for us, to be not of something.
Re'Lynn Hansen's To Some Women I Have Known proves that "good art seduces and subverts", but it can also be wildly entertaining.
This is the book I will now be recommending to all women's book clubs, men's book clubs, Talking Giraffe book clubs, who fear poetry.
ABOUT THE AUTHORRe'Lynn Hansen's work in essay, prose poem and short story has appeared in numerous literary publications including Hawai'i Review, Prism, Rhino, New Madrid, Water~Stone, New South, Poem Memoir Story, and online at contrary. She is the recipient of the New South Prose Prize, and the Prism International Creative Nonfiction Prize. Her chapbook, 25 Sightings of the Ivory Billed Woodpecker, was published by Firewheel Editions. Her Novel, Take Me to the Underground, was nominated for a Lambda Literary award.
Her work combining image and word has been featured in Calyx and Fifth Wednesday journals. She has edited a journal with emphasis on lyric essay and hybrid work, South Loop Review: Creative Nonfiction + Art. She is associate professor in the Nonfiction Program in the Creative Writing Department of Columbia College Chicago.
Re'Lynn lives with her partner, Doreen Bartoni, near the southernmost point of Lake Michigan. Here also is where four forest eco systems converge—the northern hardwood with the northeastern coniferous, and the central broadleaf with the oak pine forests of the south. This is where they write, shoot films and photos, keep up with family and friends, mentor local youth, and drive down to the lake to watch the storm systems come in and sway the trees.
BLURBS"Re'Lynn Hansen's book asks not the head's question 'what is meaning?' but the heart's question 'what has meaning?' What is worthy of recalling (calling out to again), of remembering (putting back together what is fragmentary, dissolute) from our prospect halfway between what is and what could be. Looking back at her old selves, old friends, old family, and old lovers, Hansen sees them all 'as we had imagined them to be' and as citizens of a lost world. Whatever these texts are—prose poems, lyric essays, memoir—they are luminous with loss."
- Brian Clements
"Re'Lynn Hansen's To Some Women I Have Known is deliriously immersive, but the real beauty of this work is in the juxtaposition. What yokes the memory of a friend's dying mother, a kidnapped heiress, a syphilis-stricken aunt, the ivory-billed woodpecker, and a woman in a yellow steakhouse shirt? Birds, women, horses, and pears float interdependent in the persistent spume of this gorgeous book."
- Barrie Jean Borich
"To Some Women I Have Known is poetic and essayistic, offering edges—of moments—and of genre. These pieces are lists and litanies, research and recitation, incantations and illusions, and they're all exquisite. Here is a collection about our yearning to look back at what and who has been lost by looking at the moments of such losing. Hansen finds her reflection in the snow, in her grandmother's eyes, in the sand, in the windows above the bar, and in the photographer's flash—as a way to trouble her own memory. There's a wistful distance to every line, a fade. The writing in this collection is lyrical and composed, controlled even, and I know I'll come back to it again and again."
- Jill Talbot
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