Soul Mouth by Marilyn Bowering (Exile Editions, 2014): Another Marrow Review Reprint

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What Shines: Bowering has written solidly, for decades now, in a range of genres, always returning to poetry. Soul Mouth is a series of lyric poems about the stories we tell of ourselves and others from the surreal freshness of early childhood on. She inhabits the detached sensory impressions of newness vividly: the bees in their glass honeycomb from “Museum,” the “water green eyelids” of “Crow,” the “tendrils of ferny feeling” that adolescence brings when “a boy would push his tongue inside my mouth/and bring me close to wisdom and to death.” I love her horse pieces for PK Page, her unabashed ability to pronounce our “souls” and the deeply resonant lines in “Satin Flower” that perfectly encapsulate post-mourning: “Now that grief no longer/climbs the night stairs,/I can say that the heart/goes on its distant loping anyway.” The third section “The Storytellers on their Carpets” departs from the personal tangibles of earlier poems to powerfully engage with such figures of myth as Ariadne and Midas: “what a pity you did not write a poem instead. /Everyone knows a poem has no intrinsic worth.” This impossible reduction is positive and implies the river of making can continue on its course, singingly.

What Stumbles: I like the haunting swash on the cover but not really the font, outside or in, nor that after so many books, Bowering still seems to be required to ask for a trio of blurbs on the back, a practice that should be reserved for the apprentice poet, or at least not for one publishing over twenty years! When one reads too many of these pieces in a row, the relentlessness of the “I” chimes a little too loudly, perhaps just reminding the reader that contemplative poems need reading in a contemplative fashion. On occasion, the diction gets lax as with the word “find” in the lines: “ask that the birds find something to eat/ask that the young find each other.” The incantatory, anaphoric repetition of “ask” is sufficient without “find” repeated, not to mention a surplus of “that.” And while Bowering describes the frequent use of end rhyme in the first two sections as hearkening back to youth’s nursery rhymes, sometimes it works as in “when I wore my hair like a pall/and didn’t know how lovely I was at all,” and others are less effective like “put your tongue out to the rain/and claim.”

What it Echoes: Alex Colville paintings, Italo Calvino, Plato’s Symposium, William Stafford, blue-eyed Soul music, pastries with dark raisins embedded in them.

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