The Winter 2011 issue of Goblin Fruit is a spare feast, but one dense and complex: like all the best winter fruits, it lingers on the palate and tickles the tongue with bitter brightness. This latest edition of Goblin Fruit also lacks the artistry of its usual illustrator, Oliver Hunter, but we cannot be bereft: the stunningly haunting illustrations by Australian-based Japanese artist FAM more than slake our thirst for the fantastically strange.
We begin with Neile Graham’s “Nightfall on Orkney: A Glosa,” and what more perfect invocation could there be than a poem that slides between lines of established poetry, teasing forth a new language from the voice of another? Graham’s poetry captures a darkly-limned and yet cheerful picture of peasant life in the Orkneys, deep in winter, spinning the raucous winter storm away from George MacKay Brown’s heart-rending shipwreck and bringing it instead to beat against a protected communion: beauty and intimacy in the heart of the storm, instead of death. Her integration of Brown’s lines from “The Wreck of the Archangel” is seamless, and a gorgeous recycling of poetry.
From the tearing winter winds of the Orkneys, we shrug into a cloak of storms and slip into “Strong as Salt” by Rose Lemberg. Upon my first reading, I felt it wandered a bit – although that wandering was through some wonderfully evocative imagery, some of which sears our sensibilities and croons of abandonment or furious life. Yet, when I listened to the poem read by the author, the piece was transfigured into an intoxicating and wholly captivating poem: every word carefully weighed, and woven into a net to catch the listener.
“Callisto at the Corner Coffee Shop” by Michelle Muenzler seems like an abrupt departure from the inchoate cacophony and more intimate, natural settings of the first two poems: in this piece, there is a modern coffee shop, and Callisto declaring quite simply “I was a bear once.” But the shift in gears is perfect after all, spinning from the stars referenced at the close of “Strong as Salt” into those that once winked in Callisto’s star-strewn ursine form. Muenzler’s poem may not be one for the ages, but it’s absolutely a little gem of a coffee shop Greco-Roman mythology poem, and makes me want to snatch it away into my nest of words like a magpie of poetry. Just to make it easier to read, and read again. There is also a recording of this poem, which I found to be much in the same vein as the poem itself.
We’re waltzed from the light canapé of the coffeeshop poem into the dizzying edifice of a feast that is Mari Ness’ “Snowmelt.” My first reading rocked me back on my heels, rightly impressed: she’s crafted a chain poem, from an opening compliment — and such a haunting single line, “[t]he dark blood glittering on the grey snow” (colors so hot while also so muted) — through couplet, through triolet, through pantoum! It is a marvel, full of equally marvelous imagery and skillfully crafted mirror poems. I appreciate that the chain can be taken as one work together, as a hauntingly lovely interpretation of the Snow White fairy tale, or broken into tasty morsels for desultory sampling. For those who may be unsure about what exactly composes a poetry chain, Mari Ness has written a blog post about this one.
“Snowmelt” closes on echoes of flight and masking barriers: tropes which then reverberate though Rose Lemberg’s second poem of the issue, “Three bone masks.” I found the poem fascinating, but in a distant way at first blush: I appreciated the exploration of Inuit shamanism, the evocation of walrus and lemming totems, the references to material folklore. And then, once more, Lemberg’s reading transformed her poetry into something greater: the lines became more beautiful and evocative for me in a way they weren’t when I first read the words. Further, the reading actually transformed my grasp on the poem, and made subsequent readings into something more profound. My gaze sharpened on the ragged lines, saw how each parallel structure fell so carefully into place, and noted the clinging-to and rejection of the body.
The last lines of “Three bone masks” prick like ice on the wind, funneling into “Snow Bees” which howls with midwinter silence. I cannot be rational about this poem. It crawled inside me immediately, playing out in my mind’s eye: my spine straightened from that of a daisy-fed little girl into a Queen’s spine of rigid, latticed ice. Jeannine Hall Gailey’s interpretation of Han Christian Andersen’s “The Snow Queen” and the way she painted the relationship between Gerdas and Snow Queens as two sides of the same coin were just masterful. She pushed all my buttons. There is also a reading of this poem available, but it does not match the timbre of the poem in my head.
The glitter and sharp glass of the Snow Queen become the glitter of diamonds emerging painfully with every word a young woman speaks: Christopher W. Clark has taken it upon himself to tell once more the tale of how precious stones are cruel and they cut the throat, while toads falling from the lips compose a relatively much easier curse. There is nothing new conceptually in this poem, but it is beautifully told and Clark’s reading of the poem serves to highlight the angles of the diamond stanza versus the rounded verse of the toads. There’s also a nice tip of the hat to the transmogrification of toads in other tales at the end of the poem.
Leah Bobet’s “Little Songs” carries forth the thread of transformation and development; this Petrarchan sonnet is much like an interlocking puzzle box of references to musical composition, poetic forms, and the cadence of courtship and lascivious union. This sonnet is a jewel that tickles the brain and invites multiple readings.
The last words of “Little Songs” are, appropriately enough, “[s]ing me a lullaby,” and pave the way for Loreen Heneghan’s “Drawn Like Silk.” And, oh, what a haunting lullaby it is: simply lovely in form and word, rustling across my skin with a susurrus of silk and leaving behind the most delicate spine-tingling chill. There’s winter life in this piece: spindly limbs moving in the breath of the coldest wind, making it a suiting coda to this winter bones issue.