June 20th, 2008

Review by Natasha Kochicheril Moni

by Janet Norman Knox

Concrete Wolf
PO Box 1808
Kingston, WA 98346-1808
47pp., $15.00

Rarely does one encounter a first poetry chapbook that exhibits such a mature, unified, and talented body of work. In Janet Norman Knox's Eastlake Cleaners When Quality & Price Count [a romance] the reader is given a sensory tour of the word wed with the visual which includes artist Tom Fehsenfeld's adroit images.
Ms. Knox's poetry reflects her environmental geochemist background as she launches the reader into what would seem commonplace, a dry cleaner's, into the particulars of the Eastlake Cleaners' lady, and the impacts of dry cleaning upon both environment and worker.

                Small things--ironing
        in a PCE cloud, your child coloring.
                        When you cannot see
        a child's sun, a child's sea,
                             it is then that you see
      it is not such a small thing--
the seeing of yellow the seeing of blue         seeing red--
                                fist tight against your chest,
                                    a rose floating in a gasp of wind.
        (When You Cannot See Your Child's Sun)

The author, and therefore the reader at times, appears to be spying on the life of one character.
"I am coming clean. You ask/ whether I know her by name./ By speaking the tongue/ of birds, her name is Joo-Eun, Silver Pearl, trills and coos." (All Her Names)
Knox assumes a clear risk in this collection as she illustrates the everyday doings of her subject while illuminating the perils inherent in processes such as dry cleaning. "Abstract: Complete blindness for 9 days with bright phosphenes and pain on eye rotation. It takes months to recover only central vision." (Pre-treatment [The wet, the dry, the ugly])
Due to the sensitivity/ingenuity of the author, the reader is ushered into Eastlake Cleaners with respect, thereby rebuking the idea of the book as sensationalist--for it is an exploration/celebration of humanity as witnessed in the main character's portrayal. A reader of Eastlake Cleaners will readily acknowledge how nothing in Ms. Knox's book is coincidental, every detail adds to the larger architecture of this collection as witnessed in lyricism, diction, the playful sound/language, and the form selected for each piece.
Nature is abundant here as well, and Knox often employs this topic in a manner that honors Eastern traditions of reverence illustrated in both her message and her sparseness as in A Year Passes Like a Snowflake and Way of Pollen.

        falling into a lake a moment
(waiting for moon)
        (A Year Passes Like a Snowflake)

One may admire the way in which Knox allows for multiple readings of the same poem by the inclusion of the parentheses. Sometimes more obvious as in the above mentioned example other times more subtle as in line-breaks, a reader will understand how Knox's work is multi-layered.
Even Knox's use of concrete forms varies from the body of water, fluid in visual and description in Eastlake Avenue, A Tidal Creek to Eastlake Lies where Eastlake is "a nude round in spots" with "I-5 a canopy", the poem itself appearing block-like in spite of its sensuous imagery.
Eastlake Cleaners When Quality & Price Count [a romance] is exactly this, a romance both poetic and for every day, from a worker rarely acknowledged to a tribute to seasonal shifts to an allure of what appears foreign/familiar to the relationship/division between author/subject. At once controlled and spirited, humorous and earnest, experimental and traditional, Janet Norman Knox in her first collection has fused the unlikely and the result is a book that educates, endures.


Natasha Kochicheril Moni writes and resides on the Puget Sound where she enjoys the possibility of spying Orcas on her ferry commute. Currently, she acts as Editor-in-Chief for Crab Creek Review. Her work appears in journals including: Rattle, 14 Hills, Poetry Southeast, and Verse. Visit her online at www.natashamoni.com




Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.