Reviews, Vol. 6.4, Dec. 2012
Dancing Girl Press, 2011
Stapled, unnumbered, $7
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Sarah J. Sloat has a way with words. In this collection of 22 poems, the author shows off a bagful of techniques that always feel fresh. Her style is playful and stretches the imagination with the use of unlikely associations and unique observations, and the clever meshing of the cast-away odds and ends of things. And to boot, she does it all with a spot-on rhythmic sense and impressive use of rhyme.
Rhyme these days in the hands of less-skilled poets gives a bad name to rhyme on the whole. But here we are reminded of how important rhyme can be when used well, and how, when used, it best impacts the poem. “Hive” provides an example of both the sense of rhyme and rhythm at play:
Sunblind in the kitchen I drop a bowl,
See it smash – slow motion – before it happens.
Now, petals: cool porcelain on noon fields.
Always work to be done.
The lake laps the sand bank: wavelength.
The mind succumbs to heat.
Summer slaves to stay awake.
Do bees sleep?
“Sweep” and “sleep” are five lines separated but this proves to be a necessary distance for the way it plays into the rhythm; the result is that the impact is both felt and heard. Still others shine in their use of sound, as with the consonance and assonance in “Ingrid Wears Bangs”:
hugging the sullen isthmus
a sponge that sopped up glue
and got stuck
plugged in a tunnel
in an umlaut
in a rut
And “Ghazal of the Jack Pines” dazzles with its well-turned wordplay within the form. Others, like “On the Way to Meet My Daughter’s Teacher,” are sophisticated puns extended into poems. The aforementioned begins, “I was about 15 minutes early / so I figured I’d kill myself a little bit.” Don’t we all inch a little closer to death more every moment? “To Long Division” reads like a word problem, but in all the most playfully precarious of ways:
I always knew you’d come back,
you brute, with your fat dividends
and digital blinking.
Push my face to the ground
with your boot and I’ll execute,
dangle the remainder down
And the echoes of Plath are worth mentioning (especially the syntax and use of words like “brute” and “boot”). “Dictionary Illustrations” is another word puzzle and one of the most visually detailed in the collection (“They don’t do verbs in dictionary pictures, / so for zip here’s an inch-wide depiction / of two men intent on fencing.”). “Outdoor Cafe, October” is both visual and exceptionally atmospheric and sensory; everything is in a state of decline in the imagery. Here we see the forest in autumn, with its leaves browning and falling, and feel the heaviness of the cloying October humidity. The sense of atmosphere is made immediate. “On Stopping to Smell Perfume on the Way Home from Work” is start to finish an exploration of the senses (“Have you ever peeled moss off a stone, / then pressed it against you, inside out? // Dew, nutmeg and suede.”).
There is often an exploratory sense of playfulness (especially in terms of imagery and language use) which can be curious, lighthearted, and ruminative in one (from “Sworn to Observance”):
I sit nearby in my saint suit,
no intention of action.
With a finger sometimes
in the dust I draw a circle
to see how God enters into it.
Sloat is, above all, a keen observer and recorder with a wonderful ability to bring disparate elements together to form something you mightn’t have considered. Which is to say that her technique, language use, syntactic sensability, et al, are well-turned and honed to a poet’s fine-tuned ear.