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Another America


ISBN: 1-58005-004-2

By Barbara Kingsolver

Review by: Moira Richards


I've read and loved every one of Barbara Kingsolver's half-dozen or so novels, and so I was surprised and pleased to learn that she writes poetry too. On reflection, there is no reason why I should have been surprised, because bits of her novels stay with me for years after I've read them, long after the story-lines have faded, as favorite poems do.

The poems in Another America cover a period of almost twenty years and are presented in English, with Rebeca Cartes Spanish translations on the facing pages. I am alas, only able to read one of these languages and so must be lost to the pleasure of enjoying Kingsolver's poetry in those other rich sounds that roll off my uncomprehending tongue.

Barbara Kingsolver opens her collection with a delightfully subversive poem that depicts a dystopia. The poem is represented as to be commemorating the removal of poetry as a requirement in Arizona's school, August 1997. Here is a snip:


The Governor interdicted: poetry is evicted

from our curricula,

for metaphor and rhyme take time

from science. ...


The children too young to have heard

of poetry's demise ...

...will rise and dance to the iamb of the fans,

whispering illicit rhymes,

watching the sky for a sign

while the rain beats time.

(Beating Time 3)

Another poem, Deadline, written on the eve of war, mourns the USs intent to invade Iraq and is dated, heartbreakingly, 15 January 1991. In fact, many of Kingsolver's poems in the book meditate on and critique the ugly sides of life in her America, from racism to rape. Here she is talking about trust:


... I keep it in a locked drawer with my kitchen knives

and other things of mine that have been used against me.


          (Ten Forty-Four 39 41)

Barbara Kingsolver's range of subjects is apparent just from glancing at some of the poem titles like, Poem for a Dead Neighbor and The Loss of My Arms and Legs, and just as chillingly, On the Morning I Discovered My Phone Was Tapped. She writes her poems in a conversational and accessible style of narration and for readers who may be reluctant to engage with poetry, this book may be an excellent introduction to the genre.

I'm afraid to think that I may have given an impression that this collection is all depressingly doom and gloom stuff. That would be entirely wrong. Kingsolver writes about things that she feels strongly for, and she writes her thoughts straightforwardly and unflinchingly too. Her poems convey her passionate feelings and both her love and concern for her country. As, now that I think of it, much of her fiction and essays do to.

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