Reviewed by Jill Owens
At the beginning of Joanna Klink's third and newest book of poems, she defines the title, Raptus:
(1) A state of rapture or furor. Also: an instance of this; a fit of intense emotion. (2) A seizure; a sudden or acute attack (as in a raptus of the blood, Impulsive Raptus, or Raptus Nervorum). (3) From rapio: A carrying-off by force. (4) A state of spiritual rapture marked by anesthesia. (5) A pathological paroxysm of activity giving vent to impulse of tension (as in an act of violence).
These definitions serve as descriptions of and directions through the explosive, rapturous, anguished poems that follow. Klink's specific subject is the decimation of a romantic relationship (one so intelligent and intense, it makes the reader envious), and she expands that centered grief to naturally include the loss of poetry, as well as the loss of experiential truth and the natural world. I've never read poems that so accurately represent how utterly changed the world is by the act of separation from an other.
Klink introduces her theme in the first poem, "Some Feel Rain," most directly with the lines "Do I imagine there is any place so safe it can't be/ snapped?" (The lines are jarring in their tonal shift, and they are the only lines in the poem in the first person.) The seven-page poem "Sorting" is, in part, a catalogue of what must be "let go," from the particular to the universal ("mountain ash years without cigarettes/ heaps of sweaters dishes/ the fire in the kitchen....The absurd red car your mother gave us/ the books we wrote sentences we took out....The laundry the prosody. The refusals/ the constant generosities"). Her tone is often panicked, but her rhythms are masterfully controlled. Klink manages to be defiant against the finality of this ending ("So the matchsticks flared then went dead--/ They did not go dead-- ") without ever flinching at her own culpability ("Through you/ I came to see a better life but cannot/ account for why I have not always/ lived it") or wishing to move back to a time before the loss occurred.
Raptus's epigraph is a line from Charles Olson: "Love the World -- and stay inside it." These poems are a reckoning, a challenge to the poet and the reader to move through the sharpest pain with honest awareness and remain present and in the world during and after. They are brave, startling, and beautiful poems, and Raptus is among the strongest collections published this year.
Books mentioned in this post