Alicia Cohen, bEAR (Handwritten Press, 2000)
Warning: here’s another case where my original rating of the book was affected by a bad conversion from PDF to epub; when reading ebook poetry, especially if it looks as if the author has no sense of structure, check the file you have against the original (if the original can be found online); you may have fallen victim to a bad conversion process, as I have with at least three or four books in the past year.
That said, even given the chance to read it with its original structure, Alicia Cohen’s bEAR does leave something to be desired. I get the feeling Cohen is working the same poetic veins as authors like Timothy Donnelly, looking for the proverbial magic words, that place where meaning is overtaken by the sonics of it all—that place where how good it sounds makes the “meaning” of a poem, well, meaningless. (As if any one person, including the author, is capable of dictating the meaning of a good poem in the first place. Ludicrous.) I’m not quite sure she’s there yet, though admittedly that’s an extremely subjective judgment to attempt to make:
“I’d say sweet, sweetroll
.never paint what’s not
………..there sweet heart
come here I am
it’s been so long
tired and cold
(–from “Saint’s Pockets”)
[ed. note: sorry about the leading periods, Amazon will lose the formatting without them.]
I feel a reaching for something there, something that’s out beyond what words normally mean when we string them together to make regular sentences, and that is an instinct to be praised for its very existence; the problem is that if you haven’t quite broken through that barrier yet, as so few poets have ever managed to do (the aforementioned Donnelly is an excellent modern example, or if you want to go back a few years, Rene Crevel and Robert Desnos excelled at this discipline), you end up with meaningless banter rather than a way to tap into any suspected otherworldly power. I think Cohen is on the right track here, but I don’t think she’s quite found the path yet. ** ½
Download the free ebook from Handwritten Press.