Tuesday, May 16, 2006



MORAINE by Joanna Fuhrman
(Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, 2006)


[First written to introduce Joanna Fuhrman at her April 7, 2006 reading at Small Press Traffic, San Francisco. While not delivered due to last minute schedule conflicts, it's delivered here as a book review.]

“Music is a reason for rooms”
--from “Post-Suburban Moraine”

The moraine is “a mound, ridge or ground covering of unsorted debris, deposited by the melting away of a glacier” -- according to the Geology Dictionary. According to Joanna Fuhrman’s poetry collection MORAINE, the word is as much about the melting as its aftermath. First, the poet must start with the architecture of the melt, and in her hands it is one of increasing revelations:

…she builds another house;…tears
for bricks, and cries as loud as she can…

Still he can’t hear her because the house’s
rectangular tears are too dazzlingly beautiful (13)

I excerpt that from “Architecture Moraine,” the aptly titled and aptly-the-first-poem in Fuhrman’s book because the architecture of melting conceptually bespeaks vision: one witnesses, too, the marvelous (as I think Philip Lamantia meant of said “marvelous”, albeit less "savage").

It’s a testament to Fuhrman’s wisdom that she doesn’t reduce the matter to the visual, but also encompasses the aural. Later in the same poem, she writes

…The ceiling is neither of their mouths,

but full of teeth. The sky above: a chicken,
fresh out of a fake swamp, opening its eyes

and flashing its resplendent wings. (13)

But, first, she began the poem with this:

A woman builds a house out of birds’ cries and cries (13)

This insistent noise -- and often marvelously a song --that articulates the poet’s observance of seemingly random juxtapositions fashions the poetry. But it is not enough to see. One must also speak of what one sees:

A man holds a stethoscope to a woman’s closed mouth.

A man holds a tongue out to another man’s car (15)

Of course, sound can be insufficient -- from “Self-Portrait Moraine with Missing Tuba”:

Who bops along to these jammed resentments?

What’s behind that particular gaggle of hipster noise? (16)

It would be tragic to keep speaking only to ultimately conclude:

…any real communication -- forever futile,

rain-ravaged, root-ruined, the skeletons of umbrellas (17)

Do we lapse to humor? From “Approaching-Religious Moraine”:

A telephone is too anthropomorphic to be any use
as a religious icon. Likewise the ocean. Mama Mama. (21)

An interesting, even funny twist of words. But still—how will it matter, if it does matter? The possible fate to such word-weaving is too discernible: more “skeletons of umbrellas.” No wonder the poet also cries out, sings out:

Song, I hate your demands! (21)

Or, as in “Post-Suburban Moriaine,”

All along I knew the razzmatazz beauty was said to conjure
was just a weary catalogue, a thermometer designed to make us
sick (25)

But the poet did—does—not give up. Nihilism is lazy. She kept excavating and so will come to be able to write (from “Before Thinking Moraine”):

All the water glasses line up

This means I am an art student and a classmate is telling me about a forgotten ancient language in which the words for colors are named for rocks.

There are an inifinite variety of rock types, so each shade of color has its own distinct name: indisputable, known, clear.

Misunderstanding can never occur because each color word meaning is exact. (23)

Exact enough to articulate energy

I was all geeked out
in my “Poetry Rules!” T-shirt
and kneepads when the rain
washed away my attempt
at a rondeau (32)

There is no exclamation point after “rondeau” but it just means the exclamatory energy is invisible, not non-existent.

The book continues to unfold with a geek’s passionate love affair with lingo -- surely displaying that the poet has come a long way for not being able to “tell a wise crack from a crack in an ass.” 56

It is fitting that when the book ends, we sense logic and no sense of arbitrary juxtapositions in this excerpt from “Self-Portrait as Infant Moraine”:

“I was born on the tracks during a railroad strike, and then again on a down pillow in the palace of Versailles. My father brushed my scars with vinegar to keep flies from my corpse. My mother shined my silver rattle so I could see reflections of my servants from my crib. (73)

The poet kept her eyes unflinching to witness everything revealed—and recovered—as a glacier (a universe on its own) melted. In doing so, she made us believe in her version of a world ever in flux. About her, the “others” within her now rightly conclude:

In the painting of me, a violin imitates the squawk of a crow.

I am wearing a bonnet and sobbing, and then I am wearing
a potato sack and staring straight ahead.

In the recording of my voice, one can hear a lady mouse nibbling on an ear-shaped soap, she is singing labor ditties and swinging from the ropes of a velvet curtain.

I have heard the grown-ups murmuring that she had always been lousy at following orders,

that her name in Esperanto means “delicate thug.” (74)


Eileen Tabios just released a new poetry collection: THE SECRET LIVES OF PUNCTUATIONS, VOL. I (xPress(ed), 2006). Available at SPD, Amazon.com and booksellers with excellent taste.


At 1:56 AM, Blogger EILEEN said...

Another view is presented by Corinne Robins who reviews MORAINE in Galatea Resurrects, #1 at:


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