Shanna Compton, Down Spooky, Winnow Press, 2005
Portraits and landscapes with verbal playfulness chops out the wazoo. Vocab harmonics -- "traffic light" / "light subjectivity," intertwined scenes and wordplay are all executed with a crucial balance of relaxation and density of detail that rewards repeated readings. Complex and casual, the poems in Down Spooky use appealingly jumbled details on the surface, an engaging rhythm and a narrative subtext moving underneath: fun, alert, charming, and animated with a buoyant, light touch.
Pet peeve: the introduction uses my least favorite intro strategy: the introducer is more interested in the introduction as an occasion for his own expression than in saying something to the point about the poems.
Compton uses phrases that balance alluring and puzzling qualities. - "hookymaking convincability" along side carefully crafted dreamy epistolary textures: "My dear and loving head wound"
"my sister and I once spent the day / walking around in Brooklyn / We watched a Capybara do / nothing, for like an hour."
What feel like word replacement effects work right alongside a Creeley sing-song modality and place / mood suspended chords under charged lines of sharp giddiness and beauty. And the wordplay permeates the settings and portraits, it doesn't just sit on the surface of the poems.
High School reminiscences.
In "Last Paragraph" the address of the poem and the address between the characters in it is intentionally blurred. Here, Compton uses a scene -- an account of a moment in a relationship where the vocabulary in the poem seems to be almost taking over the story, and this makes for a layered harmonic effect. I think this quality of her poetry is related to the way certain choice sentences / lines spoken in the midst of a personal conflict between lovers or friends can stick with you for years after the fight is long over - as much or more than a line of poetry can. The words take on a life of their own, and this might have as much to do with language and poetry as it does with memory and emotion. Compton's poetry is especially keyed into these interlocked processes.
"Map of the City" uses appropriation of and/or is written the style of a state tourist pamphlet, except it could apply to any state, and seems to have more to do with how a city is remembered or thought about than how it is sold. So this is a kind of satire where the purpose isn't (just) to make fun of something but to use the satirical mechanism, the taking up of a voicing, to activate another artistic effect.
"all are washed over by the paradox of open space"
Compton will go from a gentle, almost pastoral poem involving birds to "The day of prophesy has come and gone. / It seems our father never did possess / any ecclesiastical spacecraft."
Blurred barhopping accounts.
Some lines are worthy of Rogers and Hammerstein, with an extra comic twist: Let's skip / the argument about who's haircut's / worst in the senior picture/ At least you weren't wearing a boa."
Some of the poems are left underdeveloped. They work better when she's combining more elements. She has a contained swagger and in places I want even more swagger -- with less decorum.
Compton always adds a little wry distance just where it will do the most good -- in the few places where a poem is listing towards sentimentality or cliché. Or she'll deploy a cliché on purpose, but with a intervention: "The river pretends / to be caressed by a breeze."
As in James Schuyler, some poems work well as vivid, pleasurable portraits or scenes but also operate on another level, but with so little fuss that you might not even notice it on first reading: The "the slow desiccation of an espresso drop / on the countertop, it's pep all lost" works as a scene and a joke, but Compton is also thinking with the images -- in this poems (and others) there is a kind of meditation on the passage of time -- the drying of a drop of coffee on a table's surface.
In Down Spooky, literary references are delivered in the style of Ella Fitzgerald: "Marianne would discus the fauna, / but I'm not gonna. It's enough / to sip this drink and await the flutter."
Synesthetic, comic impressionism.