Reviews, Vol. 4.1, March 2010
Tarpaulin Sky Press, 2009
Perfect bound, 73 pp., $14
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Stars of the Night Commute is Croatian-born poet Ana Bozicevic’s first full-length collection of poetry. The cover art, Ícono, a 1945 painting by Remedios Varo, invokes a story of a dark and magical journey. And Bozicevic herself is largely concerned with travel—not so much the actual journey as with the framework of the arrival.
Where language is concerned, the poet tends toward verbosity. The poems are often unrefined, sometimes coarse, frequently too conversational. Bozicevic’s style invokes that of Valzhyna Mort, Belarusian émigré. An excerpt from “God Is President, She’s the Rose of the World,”
God and time, spine of the world—yawn, blah, blah, schma…
what I meant to say is
it’s hard to be a capitalist.
The language is often informal and takes on the tone of an informal conversation; and interestingly, it is the language of travel, of—yes—commute. And that is the point of the periphrastic constructs. In the same poem, the unrefined turns up a sense of fearlessness:
The answer writes itself:
Left to my own devices I’d just sink into the soil.
That is, write, with dirt
as my pillow.
That is to say, no matter what happens, the speaker will cope, as she always has. In this fearlessness is also a resolve that surfaces throughout the work, whether it is the resolve to confront the challenges of a foreign landscape, of communication, or the sort of resolve that is necessary for the continuation of a relationship.
The language of the poems is the most successful when it is refined, where “success” equates clarity. An excerpt from “Cittadino in Campagna di New Jersey” provides an example from a poem that is largely free of the familiar, conversational language, and that instead, promotes imagery:
[…] you were the line in tree’s fraction:
one present point where bird-life in the crown
divided by death on the grass, equaled a soul…
The hill curved, now in starlight.
There was a sensation of falling. And how the hill changed.
The collection as a whole speaks of distances covered—both physical and figurative. The final section of the book, titled “The Long Commute,” has to itself a single, 9-part poem (“Document”) that is easily the star of the show. Each section illuminates a different aspect of the journey—some rooted in place, others in people met along the way, and one in a letter, the likely symbol of not only travel, but of communication, of documentation.
Stars of the Night Commute is Ana Bozicevic’s documentation, her hand-crafted passport. Each poem is a stamp in her book, evidence of the transition, the transit. As she adopts a new country and makes the new language her own, the old life gradually becomes like “that basement growing darker, the telephone. Plane taut as a / nightingale, breaking the wall / of sound” (“Document,” vii.).