Edge by Edge, collection of poetry chaps by Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter
(Toadlily Press, Chappaqua, N.Y., 2007)
Running Together But Standing Apart: Toadily’s Four-In-One Chapbook Edge by Edge
The cover of the four-in-one chapbook Edge by Edge is a photograph of different crayons lined up in an uneven row as waxy trails of color flair under them. The crayons look like they are melting into each other becoming one. This image is a photograph of a detail from the artwork “MELD” by Elizabeth Levin. Meld is what the four distinct voices of Gladys Justin Carr, Heidi Hart, Emma Bolden, and Vivian Teter do in Edge by Edge do. By putting these four chapbooks in one book, each individual contribution becomes stronger. At first glance, these four poets might not even seem very similar, but on close inspection, tiny threads of connection can be found that make the reading even sweeter.
The first book in Edge by Edge is Augustine’s Brain—The Remix by Gladys Justin Carr. There is something surreal about these poems.. In “The Bench,” Carr writes, “Are you hungry? there’s some Kierkegaard/ in the fridge, she, laughing/ are you a madman or a poet?” Later in the poem which tells of a chance meeting on a bench of a she and a he, the words between them “are torn , curled in rags and swags of syllables.” The surreal vein continues as Carr writes,
she in lowercase asks
(if he reads her right)
May I warm my hands
In your pockets? Of course,
But beware of slugs, scamps,
Demons, poppycock, pride
The subject matter and use of humor and wordplay in these poems is astounding at times. A reader wants to share line after line of her playful energetic poems.
In the poem “Personals,” which reads like a set of personal ads, Carr places Basho in the same line as OutKast and then ends the poem by saying, “I could kill you with my tiny knives/ that glow like fireflies but there are so many/ other ways to say I love you./Try e-mail.” Carr is a master at having each line of her poems open up the poem in a completely different way. Carr ends the poem “Her Face Becomes a Garden” with the lines “her future overgrown/with wings/ that cannot fly.” These lines stand out with multiple readings of Edge by Edge because Carr is not the only poet of the four who brings wings into her work.
Heidi Hart’s In Ordinary Time follows Carr and steps even more deeply into the nature that hovered quietly around Carr’s poems. The wings in Hart’s poems come from insects, a cricket with a broken wing, and a helicopter. In “Cherubim,” Hart writes, “After the funeral we hear a chopper’s grinding/ heartbeat overhead.” Hart’s world is not as surreal or comical as Carr’s though their poems do not seem out of place next to each other. These poems are in ordinary time, but there is something magical in the detail with which Hart examines this ordinary time. Violence, grief, and death are commonplace in Hart’s poems. In the title poem, Hart says, “we’re flotsam, I’m thinking.”
This thinking on ideas and life are a common thread throughout Hart’s poems. In “Horse Chestnut Harvest,” she says, “and so I grieve/ to think of snapping free from what may be/ the only heaven, here.” The body itself is central in Hart’s musings, and she devotes equal attention to the nameless bodies on the other side of the world, a Neanderthal body, and her own body throughout the poems. In her last poem, “Door Psalm,” Hart says, “There are doors/in and out of the world.” This seems a fitting way to end because not only does it keep with Hart’s tone and focus on the body, but it also prepares the reader who is about to step through another door into a new poet’s voice.
Emma Bolden’s How to Recognize a Lady shares some of the wordplay and humor of Carr while focusing on the body like Hart but in a completely different way. It starts with an excerpt from Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette that tells when to use “woman” and when to use “lady.” This excerpt sits across the page from Bolden’s title poem that takes the form of a list. Bolden writes, “She is the twelfth rib gone stray. She is the side stuck/with whalebone stays.” The poem “Will and Testament” begins with the line, “I come from a long line of pistols, hilts hefted in pearl-ringed hands.” Bolden’s images provoke laughter, thought, and anger.
Bolden’s poems employ a lot of past tense which make a reader think the death that circles the poems is the only reality that makes sense in some cases. The voice in the poems is a (by her own words) “good girl” who agreed, who tried, who was. There is an undercurrent of anger that is cut by alliteration and rhyme. In X, she says, “I pared my mouth down to knife’s/ mirror, found fame by wounding with glimmer and glare.” Bolden sounds like a more modern verse version of Kate Chopin. And again there are wings. The poem “The Confessional” begins, “Bless me Father for I have plucked/the smooth down from my wings/and fried them in oil, served them/to him on a fair Friday night.”
Vivian Teter’s Translating a Bridge is the last chapbook in Edge by Edge. The idea of words themselves is important from the start in her poems. In the title poem she says, “Is it/ salve or salvage?/ Seek, seeking, or/ singing?/ Hurry to translate/at brink of/day.” Another poem is titled “Meditation on ‘Tok,’ the Dinka Word for ‘One.’” This poem is dedicated to Dut Akech, one of the Lost Boys of Sudan. Teter wants to erase the pain. She says,”Dut, we share only one heart and it beats for a world more just/ and for turning back from the brink.” An important idea in these poems is the connection of human kind as a whole. Nature is present in every poem. This is a nature that sustains people not only with its beauty but also with its rain and single leaves as food.
This chapbook makes a reader think back to all the threads in the other chapbooks in Edge by Edge and makes a reader want to draw all the threads together into a tight ball of humanity. Teter is searching for something that will “pull us all/ from our rapid, collective falling.” There are feathers and birds in Teter’s poems that make readers see the wings of the other poets, but Teter also has flames in her poems. Teter’s last poem is called “Two Last Reasons for Words,” and it ends on an optimistic note saying, “Sweet Being (brilliant/ against gray sky) there is always time/ (always!) to open/ to flame.”
In the introduction to Edge by Edge, David Rivard says, “Maybe it’s true that, as Tomas Transtromer suggests, we can think of poems as meeting places, places where a connection is made and we’re surprised into recognizing ourselves and the world. Edge by Edge…sets four very active and impassioned voices in motion, and it asks us to let those voices pass through us as they travel toward each other. They air us out and enrich our oxygen, and we’re all more alive for it.” These four chapbooks are each strengthened by sharing the same space.
Kristi Castro is a poet and English 101 instructor. With two faraway friends, she posts food challenges and responses on distantpicnic.com. She runs the small press Fret Punch and is always on the lookout for work about cheese. When she isn’t writing or grading papers, she can be found cooking or dreaming up food projects. One day she wants to open a non-profit that engages the community through food, art, and writing.