August 20, 2009

Review by Chad Prevost

CRAZY LOVE
by Pamela Uschuk

Wings Press
627 E Guenther
San Antonio, TX, 78210-1134
ISBN 978-0-916727-58-1
2009, 102 pp., $16.00
www.wingspress.com

A lyricist of high order, Pamela Uschuk’s Crazy Love, her fourth full-length collection of award-winning poems, is an essential new collection. Uschuk shifts deftly from the personal to the “public,” or from the small personal vantage to the larger socio-political perspective. Having traveled the world widely as a reader and mentor to others, it comes as no surprise that her poetry offers a broad point of view, effectively illustrating contemporary and international political concerns. It is the combination of Uschuk’s accessibility, clarity, striking imagery (and surprising turns on many of those images), love of nature, regard for global contemporary matters (and how they impact our personal lives) that make her a poet with widespread appeal.

The poems in Crazy Love focus often on the natural world for inspiration and metaphor. Uschuk seems to take sensual pleasure in the particulars of each setting, often ascribing a personal connection with them in a wide variety of contexts. Consider “Climbing Down from Engineer Mountain,” in which the poet, descending “to the trailhead at 10,000 feet / through meadows of insatiable wildflowers” stops and watches her friends “grow smaller / as they walk ahead.” She first imagines herself as an Incan mother leaving her children and hiking down the slope. Then:

I want to reach out and hold my friends awhile
in the blue clarity of this altitude, make them fall
desperately in love with sneezeweed
and coreopsis the color of absinthe…
with my heart
that breaks at each footstep swallowed
by wild petals and retreating from the solitude
of ravens, from rock’s passionate thrust
to the traffic of what passes for the world.

A different kind of connection occurs at home on a frigid morning in “Christmas Dawn” when the poet, the self-described “slight woman in a shivering robe / skidding on frost and memories,” spooks a buck in the cheat grass. She writes:

…he snorts to walk up for a better look
or to let me know he’s boss.

I will always believe that he wanted to tell me
something essential about my life, but,
as usual, I fail to interpret what.

Of course, Uschuk does “interpret” the world—and the various manifestations of love within and for it—in poem after poem. Considered holistically, Crazy Love is an exploration of the theme of love and the inherent difficulty at its center. Or perhaps it is best summarized by the poet herself in the last poem of the first section, “Peeling the Kitchen.” It concludes:

Perhaps, this simple work is poetry, to strip
chaotic layers revealed the buried patterns
of our stories, charting love’s labyrinth, the way betrayal,
faith and fear spin us
in their webs, awful and light.

In the middle sections of the collection, Uschuk’s focus expands to allow contemporary personal and political concerns to weave their way in. The final section, however, would seem to bring the collection full circle, as Uschuk explores her relationships, especially with her parents and relatives, and the metaphysical urgency resonates most sharply. The final poem, “Flying Through Thunder,” dramatizes the experience “pitching / fragile as a cocoon 20,000 feet above tree line.” The poem—and book—conclude with these final eleven lines:

Now as the plane lunges, engines
steady above the Continental Divide,
I regard razor backed ridges
older than memory, vaster
than scars. They comfort me

in their lack of pity, their indifference
to our cares. Perhaps this is
all I need to know. It is not until
we begin to fall that we
learn how sweet the burst
of ecstasy, then
release.

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