Sunday, July 17, 2005

The poetry of acceptance (Book review)

Poetic Acceptance by Erin Monahan (2005, Meeting of the Minds Publications , Pittsburgh PA, USA, $10, 30pp)

The term 'Internet poetry' sprang into existence as a pejorative, and is felt by some to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. The explosion of post-anything forums, like the earlier vanity press anthology scams, has shown that the previous restrictions on publication by economics and reasons of space was keeping out not a small pool of competent but ignored poets, but a mass of would-be poets without either something to say or the means with which to say it. Interestingly, this has been recognised by the online poetry community, which is beginning to establish ground rules of literacy and coherence, to the annoyance of those who feel that poetry is self-expression which need take no notice of the views of readers.

But quality will prevail. One of the virtues of the internet is that it allows people's work to be judged on its merits, without preconceptions about whether it ought to be good or important. Another virtue is the possibility of fine-tuning from user feedback, so that confusions and complexities can be resolved dynamically before the poem reaches its final form.

Monahan is a beneficiary of both these factors. Her education was cut short by early marriage and motherhood, but she was inspired to return to writing poetry after the post-natal death of her child, and she has developed a distinctive style of allusive, emotionally-tough, short narrative poems, derived from her experience. The title of her collection reflects her moral stance: she realises that the world is not perfect, and there is no other, but aims for an equanamity of spirit through active engagement with it. This is not to say that her poems are doom-ridden or depressive; quite the opposite. Although she references the Beat poet Charles Bukowski and Sylvia Plath, she establishes a distance from despair and sorrow, through a forward-looking enjoyment of life in the moment. Thus "Saturday Morning Flea Market" describes a shopping expedition in simple terms, but manages to define a moment of luxuriating in the exotic appeal of foreign things and words; "Anchored" recounts a moment of reflection:

"Karma kills / like broken air conditioners and broken / hearts".
Other poems deal with love, sex, and lust: in "Absentia", she says
"There is an absence / in the room tonight- / it is the want / of your lips on mine"
, closely allied to her explorations of the connections between words and feelings (From "Permanent": "I suppose it's all about / being needed").

But the core of this collection is the series of poems addressing the death of her child. These display a range of approaches and responses, from her anger at her mother's Christian platitudes ("Mother's love", perhaps more shocking in the God-fearing USA), bleak despair ("Free": "There were: / no miracles/ in the desert"), to comfort in fantasy ("Fantasia": "She smiles in rock-crystal / and giggles on the breeze"), and closure ("Wisdom": "You were never in pain"). In 'Time: A study in grief', the longest, most ambitious, and best poem in the collection, she traces her reactions from (literal) speechlessness:

"Now there is nothing/ and it's too much, / everything, and not nearly enough / at the same time, and the words / come out wrong, because there are / no words at all."

through anger, to the acceptance of her title, shown to be not some unconsidered optimism but an accommodation of reality which allows for both grief and future happiness.

Monahan's work reflects the development of her skills as a poet to set out her responses to personal tragedy but is not limited to the ghetto of therapeutic writing. Her poetry is funny, sexy and clever, and deserves to reach a wide audience.


Erin said...

Martin, This is so wonderful, thank you so much. I'm glad you felt it worthy of such a review, it's not only stroked my ego, it's let me know that I've managed to do what I aimed to with this collection - and that was definitely a very nice way to wake up this morning!

martin said...

It's nice to find something that I could wholeheartedly praise!