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So, grab a cup of hot chocolate or eggnog (don't forget the rum!) and enjoy this fine review, which is sure to calm your frayed Christmas season nerves and give you pause for literary thought.  Cindy and Karen extend their heartfelt thanks for a great year of poetry submissions and supportive readers.  Here's to a happy, healthy, and creative 2014.



Traffic with Macbeth, poems by Larissa Szporluk
ISBN: 978-1-936797-02-8)
Tupelo Press, 2011
70 pages, paper, $16.95

Reviewed by Arthur McMaster

In several of Larissa Szporluk's poems, especially the shorter ones, we sense a vivid, metrical pulse. She invites the reader to complete the narrative. Titles, again extremely economical, offer possibilities. Her small poems, and she tends to work in short, very tight, well-measured spaces, only suggest. The poet's images and allusions tempt. They rarely explain. Her radical dislocation of images often pull together to suggest more. We do not finish the volume with the sense of completion as much as with what may be implied.  The mesage from the poet is "What do you think about that?"

For instance, in "Tadpole," a representative poem in terms of its layout and the poet's want to withhold any obvious message, we find:

               Bitterness, seamstress 
               weave me a coat.
              My body's exposed
              to my watery city.

Tone? Anxiety, brutality, fear, reproach all stake fair claim. The truck with dark matters in Ms. Szporluk's work is particularly clear in poems: "Grapeshot," "Nihilist," "Gargoyle," "Windmill," "Bludgeon-Man," "Witch-Catalogue," "Harpy," and "Orrido"-as dark a poem as you will find in anything from Plath's Ariel. She even calls on Mom, as Sylvia was given to do. I am particularly taken with the poem "Octopus," which tells dear reader:
There is nothing for her to hold / and everybody knows it. // Nothing for her to hold / eight times over. // Pieces of her babies, / girly, ghostly, // float toward her nightly / tossing brain. // Mom has a gene for dropping dead, / but she won't use it."

Now, there is darkness to complement anything we might have ever conjured about "Octomom."

Poems in Part III and IV are more congruous in a conventional, poetic narrative sense than Parts I and II, while the lyrical remains fully present. Szporluk's use of white space suggests the careful trimming of Bonsai trees, pruned and polished as ocular glass. Obsidian, perhaps. "Rogue's March" tells of what may have been a moment of sexual violence. Here, her imagery suggests the craft and consciousness we might associate with Louise Glück, in her Wild Iris days.


               Even God fell hard 
               for heaven's darling traitor.
               I think about the stupid boy 
               who hurt me, how deep inside his hate 
               was the purest boyish love.
               If this is true, if this is why 
               God gave us reason
               only to cross it, and cross it, and cross it,
               then maybe I should jump.

Larissa Szporluk's poems are often first-person accusatory, a heady flavor of acrimony and alarm. In the lovely, cascading poem "Windmill," we find: "I can whish any / bird into gore, abort / any fate, con wind / to kill corn. I wear / a wood kilt. I stand / straight but my head / makes the rounds / of a whore who is doomed/ to feel less / and do more...." The Brits have an expression, "at the end of the day," that has found its way into the American argot. At the end of the day with Ms. Szporluk's poems, we know more about the hard gristle of experience and woe, and certainly of despair, than we might have expected to or signed up for.


Arthur McMaster's volumes of poetry include Initiative) The Spy Who Came Down with a Cold. His recent memoir is titled Need to Know; Journey of an American Intelligence Officer to College Professor and Poet. He teaches at Converse College and is Contributing Editor for Poets' Quarterly.