Now that I have convinced you—hopefully—to read poetry as much as you do those bite-sized tweets, I invite you to take up another startling book of poetry: Keetje Kuipers’s Beautiful in the Mouth. Selected by Thomas Lux as winner of BOA Editions’ first book award, the book is appropriately titled. Each poem desires to be read aloud. Kuipers’s lines glide across the tongue, surprising with fresh metaphor:
Everything just as we left it: the skyline arching its neck on the horizon,
still growing its spine of suckled spikes,
the key slowly clicking in the lock until the door swings open to dinner plates
stacked like scoured turtle shells,
the footprints around the bed unfolding constellations, opening patiently
against the floor.
And our thighs rocking together like two moored boats in the night,
all those tender lights held tight in their hulls.
(from “Driving Back into the City”)
With lines sonorous and sensuous, Kuipers writes just as well about New York City scenes as she does of Northwest landscapes. Her love for the mysteries of the wilderness shines through in poems such as “Blackfoot River,” “At Stanfield Reservoir and Wildlife Preserve” and “Oregon Spring.” The poem “River Sonnet“ pays homage to a salmon as exquisitely as Elizabeth Bishop pays tribute to her embattled catch in “The Fish.”
The place of her poems, however, is truly the embodied experience in the larger world. She douses us in imagery that we can voice in our mouths and feel under our fingers. At the end of “Santeria for the City: Blackout, Summer 2003,” the enjambed lines descend and ascend (oxymoronically) into an internal aerial view:
As the body is a home,
as the city is a body,
as circuitry runs the lengths
of my arms, these streets—we are a flash
in the fuse box, a blown kiss
into blackness, the perfect thrill
of your last departure
orbiting its small plane inside you.
Though Kuipers can delve deeply into her subjects, a quick wit also permeates the poems. “Last night, moths commanded by candle flame/ hovered at my elbows like fat but agile bartenders” she writes in “What We Call Indian Summer.” Kuipers’s poems can be erotic (see “Motel” and “Finally”) and they can also poignantly elucidate grief (see “Ikebana for the Dead” and “My First Lover Returns from Iraq”).
We can feel her speaker’s loss most acutely in an excerpt from the following poem:
Making Love After the Death
It was an artichoke we pulled from the ground
that night. I remember the way you held
the dark beer in your mouth, made the garden
wait for you until you waded in
waist deep. Grasses hugged your long thighs
and you turned among them, a grain of sand
in a moving sea. The baby had been dead a week.
This poem shows us how words can accumulate with a grim power: notice “way, wait, waded, waist, week.” And yet, this poem—like many others in the book—remind us that through our senses we can best ground ourselves in the gamut of our experiences.
Don’t miss savoring Beautiful in the Mouth.
– Amy Pence, Regular Contributor