Winner, Slapering Hol Press Chapbook Competition 2006
Slapering Hol Press, 2007; 32 pages; $12.00
ISBN-13: 978-0970027771, paper
Reviewed by Patricia Brody
Alabama-based poet Mary Kaiser's voluptuous debut collection, Falling Into Velazquez, draws the reader into its taut gallery of "passageways…blackened walls and a ring of eyes," where the masters and masterpieces wait, "to [flame you] blind." Yes, Kaiser sets up her series of ekphrastic — and often ecstatic — poems as a kind of tour: From the title poem, where the 5-year-old narrator wrestles a huge European Masterpieces onto her lap "The fat spine sinks between my legs" we follow this carefully curated exhibit, and we are taught the painter's language of color, light and consciousness through the perception of Kaiser, our guide.
Here is a poet who proves herself to be a master of the persona voice — "I do consider almost everything in 'Falling' a persona poem, in that I'm trying to inhabit the sensibility and often the voice of a character, and that seems to be the approach that naturally occurs for me. I'm fascinated by the myriad ways of being a human being."
This author tells her stories through a series of gazes: the gaze of the artist Diego Rivera painting his Detroit mural "he curls a fetus inside a cartouche" or his near-martyr wife Frieda Kahlo "thumbing grief across her forehead" or the counter-gaze of the sitter, as in "Naked in Philadelphia" after a Thomas Eakins painting: "take her now — before she sets a bare sole down, lifts her lashes , inky with particularity ." In some cases Kaiser speaks through the voice of the object itself — the thing being described — as in the opening "Hand Tools," a poem in which our journey begins through the all-seeing/unseeing eyes of a long-buried or imagined tribeswoman whose "art" was her handling of tools. Kaiser pictures: a double-bladed
the width of a woman's
palm… one side…
rims of cook pots … could
sever a cord at navel or
this wedge would ride
the gap between her breasts
all day and gleam with sweat,
Cool on her long clay
Finally, of course, the gaze of this poet-gazer is what holds us, her reader, transfixed. Kaiser's art allows us to gaze with our own eyes, to feel the "arcing …shuffling" brush stroke and the breath of the master -painter, the creator, as well as the breath of the slave-object of the painter's gaze — and ultimately, the held — then released — breath of the poet as she speaks to us of beauty, of fear. What Kaiser hands us is emotion and thought made tangible by the human hand: the painter's vision through the poet's, born in the living blood of human desire.
Patricia Brody's recent chapbook American Desire was selected by Finishing Line Books for their 2009 New Women's Voices award. Her full length collection, Dangerous to Know, will appear in 2012 from Salmon Books. Brody's poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Paris Review, Western Humanities and Big City Lit. This is her first review in Big City Lit.