THE FIFTH VOICE by PAMELA HART, ALLEN STROUS, VICTORIA GIVOTOVSKY & NOAH KUCIJJULIE R. ENSZER Reviews
The Fifth Voice by Pamela Hart, Allen Strous, Victoria Givotovsky, and Noah Kucij with an introduction by Ilya Kaminsky.
(Toadlily Press, Chappaqua, NY, 2006)
The Fifth Voice: A Quartet of Chapbooks
Toadlily Press delivers its second book in the Quartet series that gathers four chapbooks into one perfect-bound book of poetry. The Fifth Voice reflects a leap forward for the press; the gorgeously designed cover signifies a finely printed book. The four poets included are well-served by the press and its delivery of poetry into the world.
The first chapbook in The Fifth Voice is titled The End of the Body and is written by Pamela Hart. The thirteen poems of the collection concern themselves with corporeality and the transience of the body. As Hart writes in the title poem,
Then I saw—how fast the mind
takes hold of looking—him fade
to language him no longer body
and we still wanting to know
The chapbook concludes with the poem “how we rush to tell the story of the body as it leaves” and these final lines,
the body talks in brush strokes
in utterances in breaths
about how it folded itself
around lumbar and sacrum
to make a grammar of muscle and joint
how it praised lung and heart
the body making and unmaking itself
The End of the Body is a strong gathering by a poet with a careful eye for image and a strong editorial hand in assembling a chapbook with the perfect balance between thematic unity and poetic variation.
The second chapbook in the collection is Burned Papers by Noah Kucij. The first part of this chapbook presents a sequence of poems with southeast Asian themes. These poems delight, as in these lines from “Ramen Shop,”
you’re eating sticky bales
of rice awash in rose petals
and salt, the human clock around you
slurps the seconds out of ever’s
Compressed and sharp in their observations, Kucij makes the material sing. He also mounts a powerful found poem with material from a mathematics professor’s diary in “Hypergeometric.” It’s an ambitious project that could be pressed further. There are interesting lines and poems among the twelve in Kucij’s section, although, overall, the chapbook doesn’t cohere with the strength established by the first.
The third chapbook in the collection, Elegies and Other Love Songs, by Victoria Givotovsky has its most luminous moment in the poem “Meeting Akhmatova” which concludes with these lines,
I saw the ashtray
Where she burned her poems, because in that room too,
I looked out her window to see what she had seen,
Her eyes stared back at me through fingerprinted glass.
In this poem Givotovsky mobilizes language and imagery in powerful ways to move her narrative. Some of the other poems rely on language that is more abstract and common, but Givotovsky gives glimmers of her strength as a poet in this chapbook leaving open the imagination for her future poems.
The final chapbook, Of This Ground, is by Allen Strous. It concerns itself with the modern pastoral. In “Pear Trees,” Strous writes
And past the silvering of the cracked,
at a distant
the trees blasted black
the long-ago in it,
Strous’ strength is the rich content from which he draws his poems. There are lovely closely observed moments in the fourteen poems from Strous in the chapbook. Attention to the craft of the line and to making the language fresh would propel his future work.
The title of this second installment in Toadlily’s Quartet Series comes from the idea that bringing the four voices together in a single collection creates a fifth voice that emanates from the unified text. I felt that fifth voice more from the first gathering of the Toadlily Series, Desire Path (reviewed in GR's second issue here). In this collection, however, the chapbooks don’t speak to one another as intimate familiars in the way that the voices of the last collection did. The Fifth Voice as a publishing strategy for chapbooks may be an essential one, but, for some poets, the loss of their autonomy in an individual chapbook is great.
The collection of four chapbooks together remains an interesting project. It may be that, as publisher Sandy McIntosh, writes, “the survival of the chapbook as an artform will be accomplished by Internet-based magazines and by printed collections, such as this one.” Chapbooks are growing in attention in the world of poetry today. A recent profile in the AWP magazine on chapbooks as a literary form and websites such as Chapbook Finder, further highlight the significance of chapbooks for poets and lovers of poetry. Recently, Blackbird, an online journal from the English Department Virginia Commonwealth University and the New Virginia Review, began reviewing chapbooks as a regular part of the journal. I can only view these as positive developments. Certainly, the precious first fifteen to twenty pages of a poet’s career bound together in a first chapbook are delicate like the wings of the moth emerging from the pupa. We all in the world of poetry benefit when the sun is warm and caring on these new wings like the good people at Toadlily Press seem to be with their Quartet Series.
Julie R. Enszer is a writer and lesbian activist living in Maryland. She has previously been published in Iris: A Journal About Women, Room of One’s Own, Long Shot, the Web Del Sol Review, and the Jewish Women’s Literary Annual. Her poem "Six Conversations about Cancer" is in Under Our Skin: Literature of Breast Cancer, and her recent essay, "When Women Poets Die Young" is at ICORN. You also can read her essay, "Queer Culture: Our History and Legacy" at the Woman-Stirred Blog. You can learn more about her work at www.JulieREnszer.com.