Sunday, February 24, 2008

Patricia Markert's "Watched You Disappear"



Saturday afternoon I went along to the Jefferson Market Library to hear my friend Pattie read from her newly published poetry chapbook. Built of a collection of styles--High Victorian Gothic, Neo-late Romanesque, and Neuschwanstein-inspired--the library is a branch of the New York Public Library. It was built originally as the Third Judicial District Courthouse, but ceased its judicial function in 1945.

I heard Pattie read before, from her collaborative chapbook "To Genesis," but that reading did not prepare me for the powerful stuff she read from this new book. After reading the book myself, my appreciation for the book's emotional honesty and creative artistry only grew.

"Watched You Disappear," as its title suggests, is about love and loss. At its heart is a sequence of seven letters written by the grieving mother to a dead teenage daughter. "Letters to Elizabeth" are painful to read. They bear reading only because their language is so understated, so restrained that the grief held in check within the lines feels utterly genuine. This is a paradox. Grief is supposed to be so overwhelming--think of Lear mourning over dead Cordelia, a reference made in one of the letters--that it leaves no room for other thoughts. But this is not so, or as Markert puts it in the chapbook's last poem "In the Shower": "I can't cry on cue the way he wants me to." One may still grieve though one does not manifest the outward signs of grief. And in the room unlocked by that grief, Markert writes of the sensation of irreparable loss.

And losses, for the book reflects on other dispossessions such as aging, young love, death of a grandfather, changes in the city. The title poem "Watched You Disappear" observes the husband wading deeper and deeper into the ocean, and compares that disappearance with the vanishing, with age, of his senses, before concluding with a perfect resolution of the image. Another perfect poem, my favorite of the book, is "Night Fishing in a Speed Boat." Here, the man hooks the woman's eyelid with his fishing hook, and howls for her pain, his face scrunched up "like a gargoyle's." The short poem concludes with the woman realizing she hates learning how much he loves her.

A swimmer strokes her way through many of these poems, at times the figure of the mother, at other times that of the daughter, and at yet other times that of a mere woman. Strong but vulnerable, disciplined yet liberated, the swimmer is also the poet at work. In these poems Markert not only dives to a great depth, she also, quite miraculously, emerges to the light, grasping golden tokens of the dark.

7 comments:

Eshuneutics said...

The swimmer is an interesting trope. You give an evocative account of this chapbook. Generous, gentle and genuine.

Jee Leong Koh said...

Ooh... three gen's.

Rui said...

your comments on grief remind me of Emily Dickinson's 'After great pain, a formal feeling comes'. i've loved that one since secondary school.

Jee Leong Koh said...

I love that one too, rui.

Patricia Markert said...

Jee Leong, How wonderful to read your response to my reading. Thank you for coming and for your praise of my work.

Jee Leong Koh said...

How could somone get a copy of your book?

Patricia Markert said...

Go to 5 Spice Poetry. Here is a link. http://5spicepoetry.com/ The website just went live last weekend

Thanks for your help with publicizing the book.