June 5, 2009

Review by Moira Richards

by Allison Hedge Coke

Coffee House Press
79 Thirteenth Avenue NE
Suite 110
Minneapolis, MN 55413
IBSN 978-1-56689-061-8
1997, 96 pp., $16.00

Dog Road Woman is Allison Hedge Coke’s first full-length book of poems and with it she won the American Book Award in 1998. Previous winners of the award include Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Audre Lorde’s A Burst of Light and Paula Gunn Allen’s Spider Woman’s Granddaughters: Traditional Tales and Contemporary Writing by Native American Women. The best company indeed!

This collection comprises a variety of visually intriguing poems. Some are narrow, with just one or two words per line forming margins on the page; another spreads over nine pages divided into two columns–sometimes words in one of the columns, sometimes in both. A third poem is a punctuationless mass of words, separated only with small spaced gaps, occasional line breaks and which is the perfect vehicle for the breathless, stream-of-consciousness tale of horror that it narrates. These forms seem to me to evoke somehow an ages-old oral literary tradition–one that is filled with pauses and silences and interpolated with words from people perhaps not physically present.

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