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Shattered Sonnets Love Cards and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities
By Olena Kalytiak Davis
ISBN: 1-58234-352-7

Review by: Shaun Moffitt

  1/1/04

Readers of poetry who enjoy free-form, flowing imagery in a stream-of-consciousness style will probably enjoy Olena Kalytiak Davis’s new book of poetry Shattered Sonnets Love Cards and Other Off and Back Handed Importunities. Poetry readers who enjoy a more narrative type of poetry will probably not see much here that strikes their fancy.

Davis has a unique way of blending disparate images with emotional interjections, such as in “Mark licked me with all his brown lack”:

as if
someone just handed me
a bouquet
made solely,
entirely,
of the absence
of the word:
Abundance.
Thereby hand-
ing me
Everything!
O, to Lack!
I too am made
(mostwholey) of that.

Davis’s debt to e.e. cummings cannot be disputed in many poems such as this one. There is a playfulness tempered by an underlying current of deep emotion that runs through many of her poems. These poems also in cummings’ style have unique line breaks—often in the middle of words—and a frequent lack of clarifying punctuation and capitalization.

Titles of the poems often look like phrases randomly cut from newspapers like ransom notes: “dead beardtongue,” “of yawl and ketch,” and “another sign off.” Lines from various poems are intriguing yet annoying at the same time: for example, in the wonderfully titled “Poem convincing you to leave your wife,” the speaker asks, “have you dare you see seen it?” There is a fun syncopation to lines like that, but they do not have much emotional or comic impact.

All of this is not to say that the poems are not lyric and personal in the finest sense of those words. Most of the poems also have quite a confessional appeal to them. “Poem for my #*th birthday” has the chaotic jazz style the other poems do, yet it adds a very clear narrative line about the workings of the speaker’s mind on her birthday, a day in which she “put on my new pink low rise cordurory flairs” and “watched #*#w**dru^^, who i slept with one or twice (in / 1986), report from islamabad for abc.” The number signs and asterisks are part of the poem. Davis probably had a lot of fun conveying her ideas while also adding some quirky stylistic maneuvers.

In reading these poems, one needs to quietly and firmly get into a poetic frame of mind. Suspend logical assumptions about what words should look like, which order they should come in, where punctuation should be, and how words ought to be capitalized. And in this frame of mind, one will find some beautiful images and original phrasings. Will you be confused? Yes. Will you care if you are? I did—but you may not.

 




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