Thursday, August 24, 2017

This History That Just Happened - Hannah Craig (Parlor Press)

Today's book of poetry:
This History That Just Happened.  Hannah Craig.  Parlor Press.  Anderson, South Carolina.  2017.

Winner of the NEW MEASURE POETRY PRIZE


This History That Just Happened by Hannah Craig announces a new voice arrived fully formed.  The poems in This History... create an instant context whether Craig is country bound and ruminating on barn swallows or inside the mind of torture, cataloguing the tools designed to get at the truth through pain.

Craig isn't offering up any easy solutions as she disassembles our previously held misconceptions about "Faith Healing" or a mental list of associates who cook meth.  But she will tackle the landscape between "the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary" and "when the baby bites through the electrical cord."  Don't let Today's book of poetry misinform you though, This History That Just Happened is no sideshow, Craig's poems inflame the reader, they create surface tension and heat, and all of this because she takes our language to unfamiliar terrain.  Today's book of poetry had to break out the dictionary a few times, a painful but necessary confession.  Craig will give you ample reason to want to get it right. 

The Little Sleep

Think of death, think of driving
through the game preserve on rain
& brake fluid,
between Shock Lake and Bass Pond
gravel & dirt & rich blood
 deer strung in oak trees
hunt caps in the orange trees slow-walking
thighs like cold barrels
rolling, rolling

Look, the dialogue of new death
is broader, forget what you heard on Sunday,
this is new speech
floating across the yard, someone's forearm
braced against the bedroom window,
a tin-lip shaped on milk glass
a forethought in chipped polish

Shoot a memento, subsistence or justice.
Shoot back-talkers, antlers, tigers, kids.

Suddenly there's so much churl in the fanning swamp-water.
So much curl in the fern leaves where the frost drops
like duck eggs.

Three languages now, instead of one.
Two of these show that the powerful need to eat first.
They must or they die, I think.

That's why the birds kettle
to a big bass drum on Indiana evenings,
boom-tock-boom.
The fox scrambles to the ditch
but we keep thinking of measurements:
number of eggs for custard
number of eggs for a silky afternoon
number of softened, soaked vanilla beans
the powerful need to serve a sit-down meal
roast, bread, beans
the coroner's gray sedan
wheels of needling silence, rims of ice
and the cows with their muddy boots

the farmer brings out the eggs on his carbon-fiber leg
he used to shoot Afghans, now shoos chickens
& ducks aside    come on so come on

an egg dark as brass, some jam
again the ferny green that never truly evaporates
from the rims and fallen limbs along the bank
like the green trim on this flat sheet
fails to offer comfort or much dignity
anyway, warriors, the light here now
the light of how committed we have become to rigidity

to what is only here this little while
of how we are to nowhere called and to all places bound.

...

This is another case of Today's book of poetry liking the way another poet talks.  These poems are measured doses of acerbic with and quaint country charm.  They are as sweet as fresh milk and as dark as the murderer's shadow.  Craig's instrument has range and she makes her interests ours.  There is a charm to how her history intersects with ours so we that we know the way to be true.

This History That Just Happened celebrates Craig's imagination and we are left to marvel at the vast range of her reading and source material.  Craig's curiosity provides her teleology, but Today's book of poetry may be confused, it wouldn't be a first, many of these things go over our short head when we postulate about what we believe to be true.

What we do know for a certainty is that we were entertained in our poetry heart.

From One Thing, Another

     "I had neither hate nor pity. The situation was urgent..."
                                     -- Paul Aussaresses, French torturer (2) 

The chair is an agent of pain, though
     it does not have agency. It is unyielding.
As is the garden hose. A toilet. A red lamp.
Towel bar. Bedsheet. Metal spoon.

Look, we can build a little house of this torture,
we can fill its cabinets with knives and forks.
With buckets and bathtubs. And you will be alone
in this house, alone with your thoughts,
with the hours, or beetles, black and scurrying.
No, you will never be alone in this house.

Decades after the skin has knitted, knotted,
burled its way over and into each hurt,
you will have become another woman
with a shopping bag, squeezing carrots.
And he will be, somewhere distant,
a grandfather who likes to fish in the summer.

At the change of light which comes
near the end of the day, both of you will stop
of a sudden, will half-turn, and see in the quiet
arrangement of chair-legs and tables, of cords
and curtain rods, of lamp-bulbs and the chains
that ignite them, a sinister echo, a flashing

dark animal. One that skulks through this house
of shouting that straddles two worlds, two eras,
in which you both pace your separate-but united chambers,
dream your dreams, fold your errant laundry,
perform your nightly ablutions.

(2) Brass. Martin. "Torture to Prevent Terrorism?" Military.com. N.p.,2001.
Web. 13 June 2016.

...

This morning's read started with Dexter Gordon's sublime "Tanya" blasting over the house speakers. That usually get the full attention of the staff.  Everyone gathered and Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, the leader of our poetry reading pack, was nowhere to be seen.  Apparently she is in Paris.  And I am the last to know.  Well, no one has earned it more.

Our Kathrynless reading went over seamlessly.  Max crawled out of his hermitage and just took over the floor like "God's own MC".  Max directed us, each in turn, as though directing a choir.  Max gave each of us the Craig poem best suited to our voice, read a few himself, masterfully, and then without another word shuffled back to his den of iniquity and closed the door.

Fever

red is infection, first bloom
of deeper malady and there are

fields interlaced, watermelon snow
the brassy tufts of fox fur caught

on barbed wire          look, fire
has been here and your cheeks perk

heat like a tea-kettle    you are getting
close to a boil, look the skin

erupts, the winter brings out roses
on your sweet, too-thin upper lip

the fox is there again, down in the ditch
waiting for a chance

and this is the theater of red, the velvet rope
of the human body on deep blue sheets

the wild strawberry, too small to cut
or bite or share, it must be taken whole

it must be fought by the body along the way
but also embraced          deconstructed

the way a sonata can be unhinged, bass
from melody, hand from hand

the fox with her deep black hole is waiting
in the snow and your body implies heat

wherever it goes       we stand there
too long in the shower steam

until everything we meant evaporates
what did we have on our skin?

has our hot blood cooled? have we cooled?
and why is the sound coming now, the growl

which both beseeches and protests
just lie on your back with your arms here

and there and with the red flag in your chest
across your rising, raving dream

a soft, faint thing thuds and skids
the snow fails at impression

and there's nothing but ozone, then
the cornfields and everything imagined

...

Today's book of poetry is pleased as punch, it is always a pleasure to discover another poet who helps us all push forward.  

Poems this smart push us up.

Image result for hannah craig photo
Hannah Craig

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Hannah Craig is an Indiana native and a graduate of the University of Chicago. She won the 2016 Mississippi Review Prize and her manuscript was a finalist for the Akron Poetry Prize, the Fineline Competition, and the Autumn House Poetry Prize. Her work has appeared widely in such publications as Smartish Pace, North American Review, Fence, Mississippi Review, and Prairie Schooner.

BLURB
Hannah Craig's This History That Just Happened places the reader at the nexus where rural and city life converge, bridging a world personal and political, natural and artful, in a voice always uniquely hers. Every word here is earned. And little, if anything, escapes this poet’s heart, mind, or eye. History works through a keen imagination. These poems make us feel and listen differently, and images coalesce line by line and dare us to reside where fierce empathy and beauty abide.
     —Yusef Komunyakaa


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