Synopses & Reviews
Cambridge, MA, 2008
Midsummer. Finally, you are used to disappointment.
A baby touches phlox. Many failures, many botched attempts,
A little success in unexpected forms. This is how the rest will go:
The gravel raked, bricks ashen, bees fattenedandndash;honey not for babes.
All at once, a rustling, whole trees in shudder, clouds pulled
Westward. You are neither here nor there, neither right nor
Wrong. The world is indifferent, tired of your insistence.
Garter snakes swallow frogs. The earthworms coil.
On your fingers, the residue of red pistils. What have you made?
What have you kept alive? Green, a secret, occult,
Grass veining the hands. Someoneandrsquo;s baby toddling.
And the phlox white. For now. Midsummer.
A remarkable first book, Disorder tells the story, by turns poignant and outrageous, of a familyandrsquo;s dislocation over four continents during the course of a hundred years. In short lyrics and longer narrative poems, Vanesha Pravin takes readers on a kaleidoscopic trek, from Bombay to Uganda, from England to Massachusetts and North Carolina, tracing the path of familial love, obsession, and the passage of time as filtered through the perceptions of family members and a host of supporting characters, including ubiquitous paparazzi, amorous vicars, and a dubious polygamist. We experience throughout a speaker forged by a deep awareness of intergenerational, multicontinental consciousness. At once global and personal, crossing ethnic, linguistic, and national boundaries in ways that few books of poetry do, Disorder bristles with quiet authority backed by a skeptical intelligence.
A meditation on the nature of betrayal, the constraints of identity, and the power of narrative, the lyric monologues in Troy, Unincorporated offer a retelling, or refraction, of Chaucer’s tragedy Troilus and Criseyde. The tale’s unrooted characters now find themselves adrift in the industrialized farmlands, strip malls, and half-tenanted “historic” downtowns of south-central Wisconsin, including the real, and literally unincorporated, town of Troy. Allusive and often humorous, they retain an affinity with Chaucer, especially in terms of their roles: Troilus, the good courtly lover, suffers from the weeps, or, in more modern terms, depression. Pandarus, the hard-working catalyst who brings the lovers together in Chaucer’s poem, is here a car mechanic. Chaucer’s narrator tells a story he didn’t author, claiming no power to change the course of events, and the narrator and characters in Troy, Unincorporated struggle against a similar predicament. Aware of themselves as literary constructs, they are paradoxically driven by the desire to be autonomous creatures—tale tellers rather than tales told. Thus, though Troy, Unincorporated follows Chaucer’s plot—Criseyde falls in love with Diomedes after leaving Troy to live with her father, who has broken his hip, and Troilus dies of a drug overdose—it moves beyond Troilus’s death to posit a possible fate for Criseyde on this “litel spot of erthe.”
This remarkable first book of poems tells the story, at turns poignant and outrageous, of a familyandrsquo;s dislocation over four continents during the course of a hundred years. In short lyrics and longer narrative poems, Vanesha Pravin takes the reader on a kaleidoscopic trek, from Bombay to Idi Aminandrsquo;s Uganda, from Birmingham, UK, to Birmingham, Alabama, and traces the path of familial love, of obsession, and the passage of time and death through the perceptions of various family members and a host of supporting characters, including ubiquitous paparazzi, mysterious hermaphrodites, and a dubious polygamist. At once global and personal, crossing ethnic, language, and national boundaries in ways few books of poems do, the speaker in the poems bristles with a kind of quiet authority backed by a skeptical intelligence. This is a powerful and unusual addition to Phoenix Poets.
About the Author
Francesca Abbate is associate professor of English at Beloit College. Her poetry has appeared in Field, Iowa Review, NEO, and Poetry, among others.
Table of Contents
[Chorus:] Everything is half here
[Psyches Song:] Praise me, I told the water lilies, for I am half-invincible
[Narrator:] Of eighth grade
[Criseyde:] How sadly my friends and I
[Pandarus:] Troilus I said were just dumb boys you know
[Troilus:] Sniffly weather, the sky all prologue
[Criseyde:] In those days arrows were very magic
[Psyche:] On the walls, the usual Americana
[Pandarus:] We made a sand woman on Harrington Beach
[Cassandra:] The halo—no mere incandescence
[Narrator:] The afternoon grew taller when a boy on Halsted
[Criseyde:] Like the friend following you
[Troilus:] I was a boy. I listened to frog song
[Criseyde:] Already I miss Troy
[Pandarus:] Slatternday Crumbday
[Criseyde:] I didnt know who I was we say
[Troilus:] I watched him paint all he could draw
[Chorus:] We tried to remember
[Narrator:] Our usual consolation of daisies
[Criseyde:] Dear (you know I never rode horses well)
[Troilus:] What lean pickings
[Criseyde:] I knew my would-be lover
[Troilus:] Nightfall when I crossed
[Criseyde:] By night my fathers house shines
[Cassandra:] Now the accrual of was. At Booth Lake, the body
[Chorus:] Then came the sand trucks
[Narrator:] We take the Hoan bridge home
[Criseyde:] If in any harbor
[Criseyde:] It was like the old world sent me a letter
[Criseyde:] The canister of Ajax glinting on the counter
[Criseyde:] Daily it storms: dams give out, a lake in the next county
[Chorus:] The way fences open