MARROW RE-PRINT: Catherine Graham’s – Her Red Hair Rises with the Wings of Insects (Wolsak & Wynn, 2013)

lady of sorrows

What Shines: Graham’s fifth collection has been widely praised and, for the most part, justly so. The gothic, textured, ornately spare cover design is gorgeous and the experimental entrances into Dorothy Molloy’s poems are fascinating. I adore form and fiddlings with it and Graham shows what can happen when one reads a deceased poet’s work so deeply that their spirit in a sense infiltrates, shaping not only the content, but more importantly, the structure of the work. While PK Page got away with writing a whole book of glosas, it’s not a form that is truly conducive to comprising an entire text and Graham, by removing the traditional skeleton and yet keeping the ectoplasmic energies of it, thereby creates a stronger, more organic book. I loved “Chthonic” with its dark fairy tale world where “the lilacs have risen to solo in the corner orchestra of green,” “Hat Rabbit” which contains my favorite Molloy fragment “grief trees,” the HD-like “Crown Island,”  “The Calling,” “The Fix,” “Where Blue Lives” and the e.e. cummings’ invoking “My Skin is my Grave” with its “high grotesque” figure of “Mister Death.” I have not read Molloy but I sense that her voicing’s conjoining with Graham’s wholly respectful and trembling honouring is complete. The best poem, however, is the first, non-Molloy one: “To the Animal He Met in the Dark,” with its richly impeccable grieving. 

What Stumbles: I wanted to see at least one original glosa prior to the “dismantlement.” It would have been interesting to trace how the form eroded, striated, enacted its essential erasures. Some of the fragments from Molloy seem unnecessary, especially when they are one or two words like, “my blouse” or “bats.” I did find the italicized lines distracting, obviously necessary but still a bit of a stubbed thumb in the text at times. Lots of pieces didn’t grip me at first but over the course of a few readings they began to seep in until I could scarcely shrug them out of my blood. That’s always a good sign.

What it Echoes: Louise Gluck, The Hours (2002), HD, Roethke, a seaweed & rice dish, Ted Hughes, painter Sam Shearon, Plath, Carol Ann Duffy, Three Songs without Words by Steven Gerber (2011).

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