The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception
Winner of the 2010 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize
The title of Martha Silano’s third book of poems is very indicative; it demands thought—“Little” as if we were to deal with trivial matters; “Office” suggesting the rote performance, the mundane. Coupled with this dismissive half-title is the mysterious, spiritual idea of the “Immaculate Conception,” suggesting that what is large and unfathomable can be institutionalized, summed up, reduced to a form.
This seeming contradiction or haystack of oppositions continues throughout the book where daily life, especially with small children, is tumbled together as if in a cyclotron with galaxies and aliens and space ships:
I’m thinking today of how we hold it together,
arrive on time with the bottle of Zinfandel, a six-pack
of Scuttlebutt beer, how we cover our wrinkles
with Visible Lift, shove the mashed winter squash
into the baby’s mouth, how we hold it all together
despite clogged rain gutters, cracked
transmissions, a new explanation for gravity’s
half-hearted hold. . . . (p. 40)
Why unite domestic life and the cosmos? Perhaps because we spend so much time feeling alien ourselves. Or perhaps because the skies give us distance and depth—we attain perspective. Or perhaps because each accommodates the absence in the other—the tender care of minutiae, the possibility and openness of space or the neediness of minutiae and the vast uncaring of space.
Silano writes a poetry of accumulation, in part because inundation is an issue, the microscopic necessaries covering us like a rug so deep and wide even the galaxy cannot accommodate it. Silano calls it “the behemoth of things needing doing.” (p. 77)
How can you juggle all the particles? The speed of Silano’s packed lines give it a try. There’s a lot to take in, and that’s the point. Silano boosts you out of your chair and pushes you to run whether she’s being petulant or luminous:
My vowels hate you
My adverbs hate you. The backyard
hates you. (p. 46)
seamlessly with sides of potato of carrot of corn
seamlessly while each door handle sings its own song
while giant cicadas ricochet off cycads and jellyfish sting
a gravy like the ether they swore the planets swam through
luminiferous millions of times less dense than air
ubiquitous impossible to define (p. 89)
Silano likes repetition and wordplay, setting up music in the ear and delighted gyration in the brain. She’s tonally diverse—aghast, but half-laughing. There’s a kind of ars poetica in “How to Sew.” And a few poems successfully flirt with non-sense—“That Spring A Room Appeared” or “You’re Like the Mean Man.”
Like all the best poets, she observes unflinchingly whether attuned to “Venus and Jupiter, low in the western sky” (p. 28) or the troubling, desperate love of the ordinary mother:
No matches, no lighter, no blanket. Just the cold air—
you, me, and the moon has no eyes so it can’t be waked up, my toadflax,
my stubborn thistle who wants not only to catch the fish but to remind it
how to breathe again in water. (p. 60)
Susan Grimm is a native of Cleveland, Ohio. Her poems have appeared in West Branch, Poetry East, The Journal, and other publications. In 1996, she was awarded an Individual Artists Fellowship from the Ohio Arts Council. Her chapbook, Almost Home, was published by the Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 1997. Her book of poems, Lake Erie Blue, was published by BkMk Press in 2004. She also edited Ordering the Storm: How to Put Together a Book of Poems which waspublished by Cleveland State University Poetry Center in 2006. Recently, she won the inaugural Copper Nickel Poetry Prize. Her chapbook Roughed Up by the Sun’s Mothering Tongue is due out in July, 2011. She is a poetry editor for Barn Owl Review.
Also by Susan Grimm:
Review of Dick of the Dead by Rachel Loden.