Reviews, Vol. 3.2, June 2009
Finishing Line Press, 2009
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Alexis Vergalla’s chapbook, Letters through Glass, is a work that is both introspective and detached. The poet’s use of language evinces an ability to view the personal through an objective lens. Her titular image is strikingly carried through to tropes and visual metaphors throughout the poems in this debut collection.
In “Issues of Translation,” translation becomes a metaphor for both love and the potential for metamorphosis in language, and indirectly, personal growth. Translation appears only as an idea, as with part 2:
Lately, I am discovering
inconsistency in translation.
Spaces instead of punctuation
phrases that seem a bit off
The speaker retains a detachment, from both the situation and her relationship. The “we” is left out of references to a date; instead, it is, “I went dancing tonight.” In subsequent lines, there is a “we,” followed by mostly “I.” Rather than effecting a self-centered view, the focus is on the other, as perceived by the speaker. The impact he has on her is hauntingly related at the end, which invokes a revelatory metamorphosis: “Endless letters and letters / signed / yours.” The translation in question, then, becomes a matter of interpretive potential on the part of the person relaying the sensibilities—in this case, the speaker.
With “Letter Home,” Vergalla circumscribes the atmosphere of a new place foreign to home; the “translation” of learning a new home is seen through the eyes of a transplanted resident. “Welcome to the desert,” she writes, “I have been told / mira mira.” “Letters,” on the other hand, discusses the significance of language via communication through the written word. The trope is an old one, but here, the approach is interestingly rendered, paralleling a communiqué over distances with the indirect correspondence of a poet with her audience. The speaker writes letters to someone, now deployed, who might have been a former student. Of writing it is observed, “if I fail no one dies / and if I succeed no one dies.” She questions, as do many writers, what is ultimately the purpose of writing, her writing.
“Through Glass,” along with “Letters,” speaks to the ideas of translation that inform Vergalla’s work as a whole. With both poems, the author’s technique of placing sometimes ordinary images or themes next to one another works to create a parallel. The Formica and salt shakers of the former work convey the ordinariness of a past relationship, just as the writing of both letters and verse are paralleled, in their way, with war in the latter. The very idea of letters being viewed through glass conveys a sense of distance and indirectly, of translation. In “Vega,” the light of a star billions of years old descends through space and time to finally reach its earthbound observers much like the image of letters through glass invokes the spirit of Vergalla’s poems: the way things, words or people are filtered, moved, lighted or changed; how they are translated and transformed.