Back Through Interruption
By Kate Northrop
Kent State University Press. 63 pp. $14.00
Books of poems appear and are gone. Even those that win awardsthis one the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prizeare rarely read, except by fellow poets. Maybe most dont deserve our attention. But those reach a depth of language lacking in mundane social discourse, "a language," in the words of theorist Alan Bourassa, "possessed by a power from which it cannot divide itself," deserve to be read, and reread.
"Back Through Interruption," the premier collection of Kate Northrops poems, opens in Iowa. "There was snow that afternoon covering the road / which twisted toward the secret / of water, the mysterious surge / of sludge & loam " In "The Visitor," the poet sees herself reflected in a picture window, "thin / and distant like the glimpse / of a surfacing fish," with the house as "dark water behind me, settling / into evening." Chilling metaphors, especially for a young poet, because, as the philosopher Gaston Bachelard points out, "material imagination wants water to have its part in death."
There is life, too, especially in Northrops remarkable ability to combine erudition and empathy. In "Akhmatova & Modigliani," we are in Paris. The Russian poet, Anna Akhmatova, then in her early twenties, and painter/sculptor Amedeo Modigliani, are walking "in the gardens where they speak / of angles and art." In her own writing, Akhmatova recalls how Modigliani, was already alcoholic and self-destructive, "completely darkened and emaciated." (He would die nine years later, at age 38, from tubercular meningitis.)
The year before they strolled through the Luxembourg Gardens, Akhmatova went to visit the Modigliani with "a dozen roses, red / as a cut." Standing in the courtyard beneath his window, she calls up theres no reply. "And what happens?," Northrop asks. "You know / what happens. Its 1910 and soon they will murder / lovers like these, murder husbands / and sons."
Then, shifting from foot to footNorthrops aesthetics animating Akhmatovas body---the poet tosses the roses, "one / by one, through the open window." "He was amazed, Akhmatova reminisced many years later, "Id been able to get into a locked room when he had the key." When she told him how she had done it, Modigliani replied, "It cant be, they lay so beautifully."
Where is the truth in a poem that lays "so beautifully" in ones mind, as so many of Kate Northrops do? In history, or in the words themselves, their measured letting of the poets blood, that dark fluid in which her work circulates from beginning to end? In the beginning, one gets an idea, and either ignores it or follows it through. Endings are less decisive. Therefore it is notable that Northrop, an Assistant Professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania, though sometimes tentative, can handle closure with a deft maturity. In her last poem, she is addressing her sister. The future poet had climbed into a tree, playing "a family game: get left / in darkness," where, sitting in her lofty perch, she heard herself called into "the poor order of the world." "I came back," she explains,
because I had to. And believe me, you who are fragile
and so faithful. I hated to return
materializing through trees.
Beginnings, endings, returnings, are rooted in the same breath; and this book breathes from beginning to end.
© Philadelphia Enquirer 2002