Monday, May 20, 2013

Review of Kate Fadick's SLIPSTREAM


by Kate Fadick

Finishing Line Press (2013)

ISBN: 978-1-62229-241-7

28 pages


I first met Kate Fadick as a fellow member of the Greater Cincinnati Writers League, a poetry critique group that has been meeting monthly for over 80 years. Eventually she also joined the bi-monthly poetry critique meetings of the Cincinnati Writer's Project, which I also attend. When Finishing Line Press accepted her chapbook late last year, I was delighted when she asked me to write a blurb for the back of it, and excited that these richly nuanced poems would be available for others to enjoy.

Karen L. George
The poems in Kate Fadick's Slipstream delve into life's dualities and contradictions. They vibrate with intimacy and compassion seasoned with nuanced awareness of the natural world. The chapbook gets its name from the centrally-located title poem. A "slipstream" is an airstream generated by a fast-moving vehicle, such as an eighteen-wheeler, that creates a suction which can pull you along with it if you're in a spot behind and slightly to the side of the vehicle. These poems are pulled along in several ways in this tightly-woven chapbook:  by theme, by emotional intensity, and by various aspects of Fadick's poetic style.

Slipstream explores themes that occur in most people's lives at one time or another, things we often have no control over such as aging, illness, death, murder, grief, worry, disconnection, and misunderstanding paired with motifs of connection, solace, reflection, peace, hope, birth, joy and celebration.

The opening poem, "Dandelion Greens," encapsulates much of how the chapbook functions. Structurally, the poem is a palindrome that reads similarly backward and forward. It begins with "I met the girl three days/before her murder,/cello on her back,/cerulean eyes..." and ends with "cerulean eyes, cello on her  back,/three days before her murder." In between we learn how the narrator deals with the girl's death:
            ...I go to the garden,
            remember my grandmother
            with the first turn of still
            damp dirt. The shovel lifts
            a dandelion, a worm hangs
            on the roots, and I can taste
            the spring tonic she swore by.

The poem reveals how memory and working in a garden serve as solace for life's difficult times, an idea repeated throughout the book:

            is my prayer. Shovel in, turn
            earth, in again, turn earth, in

The above lines are so evocative with the repeated image of digging into the earth and turning the soil over again and again in a literal as well as metaphoric sense in which we perceive the narrator trying to turn the girl's murder over, release it, and ground herself with her connection to the natural world.

This beginning poem effectively mirrors the chapbook's central, elegiac poem, "Slipstream," in which the poet doesn't get to Mississippi in time to see her mother before she dies, but later releases her ashes into the Gulf waters. In the poem's center she says she's "pulled by water toward some place/I've never been" which suggests she may never have been in a boat on the Gulf waters, and she's never been without a mother before now, even though they've been separated by distance. The "Gulf" echoes the suggestion of a physical and metaphorical distance. The poem ends with a lovely image of release:  "I lean over/the boat's edge, open the small gray box,/shards fly out, settle into what she loves." The release of ashes can be seen in a literal and metaphorical sense of a daughter releasing her mother, of beginning the process of letting go on various levels, creating a sad yet peaceful feeling, a sense of a process beginning, a process in motion. The "she loves" not only gives a sense of the mother going on, by the poet's use of the present tense, but there is such a reverential sense of honoring, and acceptance in the phrase "settle into what she loves."  The word "settle" creates a double image of her mother's ashes settling in the water, and the poet settling into the process of letting go.
Besides death, several poems deal with illness of friends and/or loved ones. In "Two Weeks before Surgery" the poet had been on vacation at a friend's vacation home out west, and when they return home, the friend finds out she has a meningioma that will require surgery in two weeks. The poet wants to rush her friend back to the desert, where they so enjoyed  the natural world:

            where you keep the birdfeeder full so I can see

            the gila woodpecker's crimson oval topping his head,
            yarmulke among quail and mourning doves; where
            we hike a sky island down and around pinnacles

            Apaches called standing up rocks; where they hid
            before surrender; where the longer we look the more
            alive the formations...

The beauty and expansiveness of the natural world depicted in the above lines contrasts effectively with the limits and liabilities of the human body. The "standing up rocks" and the "more/ alive the formations" eerily echo the tumors. And "where they hid/before surrender" refers to the Apaches, but also fits with the idea of escaping, hiding from the future surgery until you have to surrender to it. There are many what I call "connections" in this poem, so many layers of meaning, which occurs again and again throughout this chapbook, part of what makes it so rich, so unforgettable. This poem also creates a feeling of intimacy with the second person use of directly addressing a "you" that draws the reader into the poem, a technique also used in other Slipstream poems.

In "The Eve of Surgery" there is a tension set up between the poem's lyric qualities of the description of a hummingbird at the poet's feeder and an impending surgery only mentioned in the title. Since the poem is short, I will include all of it below:
            Many hummingbirds die in their sleep.
            I remember this, realize the one faithful

            to my feeder has not been seen for a week.
            Every morning is death-defying for this

            faerie-bird, the heart waking from shallow
            limbo into the race to taste red sweetness.

Italicizing the first line suggests a thought, or someone having said the words, or a quote from somewhere, perhaps the memory of hearing it said during some documentary. The italics give it emphasis, a kind of power, mimicking the narrator's hypersensitive state, worried and at the same time trying to soothe herself by thinking about how the hummingbird dies every day and comes back to life every day, how "death defying" it is. And yet the poet is also worried about the particular hummingbird that's been to her feeder every morning, that hasn't appeared in a week. Her worry over the hummingbird echoes her worry over the impending surgery so beautifully. The hummingbird's "shallow/limbo" effectively echoes the state of anesthesia the person will undergo during the upcoming surgery. "The Eve of" in the poem's title works powerfully because you usually think of the "Eve" in regards to anticipating something good like Christmas Eve, so the contrast works well here. The poem's form is beautiful–three couplets of the same length that create a pleasing symmetry–another stylistic component in other of Fadick's poems. The poem's last phrase, referring to the hummingbird, "the race to taste red sweetness" also suggests blood, the fluid that carries our life. The poem's long "e" sounds in "Eve," "sleep," "remember," "realize," "feeder," "seen," "week," "defying," "sweetness," the long "a" sounds of "faithful," "fairie," "race," "taste," accompanied with the long "o" sounds of "shallow" and "limbo" create a powerful rhythm, mirroring the sounds of a lament, and a hum or a beat like the hummingbird's wings.

Fadick's use of alliteration and assonance is another unifying element that threads throughout Slipstream, as seen in her poem about grief, "Compline," with its long "a" vowel sounds of "pain//fierce rain then gray calm" that create a powerful sense of keening that effectively contrasts with the tender image of "monks/singing softly" at the poem's end. I found this poem intriguing with its many layers. It has no punctuation and no capitalization, not even in the title. Each line can be read by itself, or it can be read as continuing into the next line. For instance, in the first stanza, "wind and light dancing" can be taken by itself. It's a complete image, and yet you can continue to read as in "wind and light dancing/the rhythm of grief strong," comparing the rhythm of grief to the rhythm of wind and light dancing. Many of the lines work in the same way, to be read and interpreted in several different ways. It amazes me how the poet does this. It creates a very natural flow, echoing the kind of flow that can occur with grief. The storm in the poem works both literally and metaphorically, mirroring the tumult of grief, how it can take you over so completely.
In the poem "Prognosis" the phrase "Relentless needle points" with its long "e" sounds, creates the effect of fingernails on a chalkboard, and you can feel the tension and unease in them, along with the tension created by the phrase "cats pacing." The needles suggests the pain of the person whose prognosis it is, whatever treatments they might be going through, as well as the pain of the narrator. The long "a" sound of "Today is all gray" gives us this feeling of sadness, of longing for something positive, some better outcome.  "Rain" and "pacing" continue the lament sound. Then Fadick uses a very effective stanza break, followed by an action on the part of the narrator: "I go for a walk."  We get a sense of relief, of at least doing something, taking the next step forward, literally and metaphorically. And what does she see but "crocus tips," an image of hope, of beauty, of something growing. It's an important detail that the crocuses are "in mud," which suggests the mess, the confusion, the fear, the muck that this prognosis brings about.  In contrast to the long "a" lamenting sounds, the last line ends with the short "u" of "crocus" and "mud," a much lighter feel, echoing the crocus image.

Besides the connection to the natural world that appears in many poems, there are also many poems that deal with connection and disconnection between people.  "Between Strangers" and "The Misunderstanding" deal with disconnection–one person giving a gift to another person, and that person not receiving the gift with even a modicum of gratitude or grace. In "Between Strangers" the narrator, in a local grocery she often visits, has a pleasant conversation with an employee who mentions he's been hunting unsuccessfully for an ethnic dish for his Sunday dinner. The narrator finds the item in a bakery down the street, and buys it for him, "Pleased at the thought of such a surprise," but when she gives it to him, "He asks why...insists I take money, pushes/bills at me, both of us wary now//of kindness."
Similarly, in "The Misunderstanding" a young artist "buys sunflowers/fresh, not for herself,/but for those she/passes on the street," but the last one she gives to a woman who "asks Why do you give/me a dead flower?" But in this poem's last stanza, the artist's resilience surfaces. She paints the woman's face on a paper napkin when she gets home. This is such an evocative image that Fadick leaves the reader to interpret as they like. Maybe the artist is processing what happened by painting, wondering what the woman's story is, mulling over why she'd interpret the gift the way she did. By painting on the napkin, she could be doing the preliminary work, for a full-blown painting she later will do. She might not have enough money for art supplies right now, and so settles for this simple portrait with what's at hand (leftover coffee and a paper napkin). Or she might, after completing the paper portrait, crumple it and throw it away, and empty the coffee down the drain–exemplifying the impermanence of life. You could also think about this young artist turning this woman's reaction into art, as many artists do, whether painters or poets, creating something beautiful out of something troubling. The title leads me to interpret that the woman's reaction to the gift is just a misunderstanding. In the last stanza, the internal rhyme and assonance of the soft "i" sound in "dips," "into," "in," "morning," and "napkin" and the combination of "brush" and "rush," "paints," "face," and "paper" create such music that suggests the young artist restoring herself–a very effective ending.

Another poem that features the motif of connection to others is seen in the poem "Souvenir from Acoma," where the narrator buys a handmade pot as a souvenir of her visit to Acoma. When I first read the poem, I wasn't familiar with "Acoma," so I researched to find that it was a Pueblo Indian village near Albuquerque, New Mexico, built on a sandstone mesa, described as "the oldest continuously inhabited location in the U.S." I don't mind looking something up about a poem. Learning something new, as a result of a poem, is an added bonus for me. I love how the phrase "a fragile cocoon," while it literally refers to the clay pot the woman is caressing, could also refer to the woman. Aren't we all just "fragile cocoons"? It's masterful how the poet gives us very few details about the woman. She "squats in the adobe door," her "callused fingers caressing the clay" and yet through these details, she comes to life. "Callused" contrasts effectively with "caressing," as does the pairing of "fragile" with "bold black lines."
Similarly, the poet provides short, concise, but evocative descriptions of the pot:  "a cat's cradle" and "sienna diamonds/floating." The connection or exchange made between the woman who made the pot and the woman who buys it is heightened by the emotional intensity of the buyer's longing  revealed in the phrase "I am hungry/for her miracle." The poem's form also enhances the idea of appreciating something beautiful–a symmetry created by two couplets framing a tercet. This poem is a good example of how Fadick's poems are both spare and dense. They expand and vibrate with meaning.

"Hagiography" is another poem about connections, an appreciation of beauty found in the natural world, and the importance of memory. The World English Dictionary defines "hagiography" as "the writing of the lives of saints" or "any biography that idealizes or idolizes its subject." This poem resonates with emotion that arises from life's dichotomies of happiness and pain, sadness and the balm of memory. It's an elegy written in a gentle, intimate tone, addressing a deceased friend, Joe, as "you." It narrates how Joe used to tell the story every October of how he saw "Three deer at woods' edge" when he was "out for a run," and how the doe "came to you, licked the salty sweat from your palm." I love the echoing effect created by the poet telling us that Joe told the story every October, and I can feel what a delight that retelling must have been for him and his listeners, and how the poet with the poem takes on that retelling, thus continuing Joe's October tradition.  The couplet form works well for the pairing of past and present, the original experience and the memory of it. There's so much music in the opening, "Three dear at wood's edge, evening sun's slant..." and in the ending, "I grieve you still in the smells of earthy dusk, wonder/why..." The haunting end of the poem "I...wonder/ why you found your gentleness such a surprise" made me think about how each of us views ourselves versus how others view us.
Another repeated motif of Slipstream is how the cycles of human life are mirrored, or seen against the backdrop of, the seasons in the natural world. For instance in "Her Death," the rhythm of the cicada's life cycle is paralleled with the nearing end of a person's life.  In the contemplative poem "yesterday in a forgotten box" the poet describes the passing of time as "the bleed/of one year into the next" as she climbs a ladder to put away Christmas decorations. This image of time bleeding is accentuated by the poem's lack of punctuation–one line bleeding into the next. At the poem's center is the line "I wonder" which begins the turn of the poem, where she thinks about "how many times/I will climb this ladder," a perfect image for the up and downs of time, the cycle of one season to the next. She thinks about the fact that her hands are the same as the hands of the child in the picture she discovered in the forgotten box. This image of the child paired with the adult emphasizes the duality and circularity of life that echoes through many of Slipstream's poems. 
Several poems in the chapbook contain an element of social commentary, perfectly understated.  "Advent in Grouse Mountain" begins with the stanza:

            I go looking for a poem,
            search the morning paper
            for something, anything
            about life and tenacity,
            some hopeful future.

I like that we don't know specifically why the narrator is looking for something hopeful, because it adds to the universal human need that the poem addressesthe need to have hope, or at the very least, the hope of hopethe belief in the possibility of good things to come. In stanza two, we not only find that she's discovered a story of hope, but hope that "rests on such tiny shoulders/...One of two few/spotted owls within earshot/of rampant logging." I appreciate how unobtrusively the poet slips in the phrase "within earshot of rampant logging" which suggests a reason for the spotted owl's plight, being is more educational than it is preachy.
This idea of finding hope in such tiny things echoes earlier poems where in the midst of illness and death the poet turns soil in her garden, sees "someone/practicing Tai Chi," watches "junco birds/discover the flat pan of seed," "the delay of the work/to be done," "supper simmering next door," seeing "the yellow finch circle/the coneflower," or "crocus tips in mud."

In "Advent in Grouse Mountain" scientists have created the owl's "fur and cedar cage" and "offer her five/brown mice each day of winter's case/she is the blessed one to birth another/and then another." The repeated "ur" sound in" fur" and "cedar" creates a lovely, soothing sound that rubs against the hard sound of "cage." The "blessed one" in the last stanza dovetails beautifully back to the poem's title "Advent in Grouse Mountain."  "Advent," in Christian terms being the coming of Christ into the world, echoes in this poem' s much anticipated birth, just as sacred. It's also effective how the promise of the owl giving birth echoes the poet's giving birth to a poem, the poem being the nest the poet has created to hold the hope of the owl's story.
The hope of birth echoes in the second last poem of Slipstream called "Nativity" in which the natural world is paired with the human world, creating an interesting juxtaposition. In the first stanza, a woman gives birth to "Antonia, brown-skinned boy" seven days after she was smuggled illegally into the U.S. In the second stanza the poet introduces us to the problem or plight of the prairie dog, depending on whether you're on the side of ranchers who kill them in large numbers or of those who want to protect the prairie dog because they're a keystone species in the prairie ecosystem. Again the poet doesn't turn the poem into an angry debate, she merely sets the scene with the last stanza: 

            Some debate the sanctity of property,
            others the legality of workers giving birth,
            while Antonio gurgles,
            nestles into his mother's neck,
            and a black-tailed prairie dog
            nibbles grass in the winter sun.

The poem ends on a hopeful note. Antonio and the prairie dog are thriving, for now at least. I like the subtlety of the poem's title, "Nativity," which suggests the holiness of Antonio's birth by using a term that echoes the birth of Jesus.
The chapbook's last poem has the definitive title of "This Is Enough." It contains the image of a five-year old who last week "was afraid/of dirt" but was invited to "take a closer/look" and as a result "this afternoon she squats/pulls dirt back/away//puts one then another/lettuce plant in place." This sight of the girl planting sparks a memory, which sends the poet searching for pictures from her own childhood, one in particular which she remembers:

            in one I bury my face
            in a peony bloom in another

            pat dirt around an iris
            flag this is enough

            to save the world

I love the ambiguity of these above lines, partly created by the lack of punctuation and the interesting line breaksanother of Fadick's strengths. These lines repeat the chapbook's motif that the beauty of nature provides comfort and healing, as well as the theme of how working in soil, planting and caring for something in the garden, brings us hope and joy. The repeated theme of connection plays out beautifully in this poem with the sight of a young girl planting that brings forth the memory of the poet's own childhood of planting, so that we also have a connection between the past and present, along with the declaration of hope that "this is enough/to save the world." I believe the poet is saying that connection to each other and a connection to the natural world are capable of saving the world.

Although Kate Fadick's chapbook, Slipstream, handles the difficult subjects of aging, illness, death, mistrust and misunderstanding, it also celebrates birth, growth, memory, place, and connection. So many poems resonate with unrepressed compassion and hope. It's important that the invitation to "take a closer/look" lies at the last poem's center. All of the poems in this chapbook echo this invitation to pay attention, to "take a closer look" at this beautiful and heartbreaking world in which we live.
Karen George lives in Northern Kentucky. Since she retired from computer programming to write full-time, she has enjoyed traveling to historic river towns, mountain country, and her first European trip. Her chapbook, Into the Heartland, was released by Finishing Line Press in 2011. You can find her recent and forthcoming work in Memoir, The Louisville Review, Border Crossing, Permafrost, Blast Furnace, Kudzu, and The Heartland Review.


  1. Excellent review and interview, Karen!

    1. Thanks, Kathleen! It was a pleasure reading the poems and writing about them.

  2. Karen, your review of Kate's chapbook is as poetry itself! Congratulations on such fine reviewing. I look forward to reading many more.

    Phebe Beiser

  3. Karen,

    What a great review! It reads like a poem itself. Enjoyable. Now I must get hold of a copy of Kate's chapbook.

    Phebe Beiser

  4. Thank you, Phebe. I really enjoyed Kate's collection and hope you will as well.



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