Friday, July 15, 2016

Powerful Desires: A Review of Christine Gelineau’s CRAVE, by Caroline LeBlanc

[T]ime is a horse, a runaway
none of us can dismount and so
the need is to find a way to enjoy the wind
that snatches handfuls of your hair as you race,
the horse’s mane, your man, the rhythm
and energy of the haunches powering under you,
their easy determination
to go on running.

from CRAVE by Christine Gelineau. NYQ Books, 2016
ISBN: 978-1-63045-020-5        buy CRAVE on Amazon

The front cover of Crave pictures the neck and head of a white horse on a white background.  It looks away from us, toward the edge of the page. Toward what it craves?  Any of you who know horse energy, as well as those who don’t, will find satisfaction for your poetic cravings between the book’s covers. 
Crave is a meaty, earthy book of narrative and lyric poems rooted in Christine Gelineu’s rural life on a horse farm. Many poems also concern matters beyond the farm. The book is divided into two sections: “Hard Evidence” consists of fifteen poems that recount what destructive cravings can cost the human soul and society, and “Crave” consists of 31 poems about cravings that push life along, through good times and bad, but ever forward. The half-dozen poems that have to do with horses left me feeling like the book is about horses, for that kind of energy drives the poems in this book about the powerful rhythms that fuel life in our earthly bodies. Also, in line with poetic trends, there are several Ekphrastic and other form poems in a text of predominantly free verse poems.
The poems in the first section, “Hard Evidence,” recount public and private events, both local and international.  They touch on the personal cost of ignorance, betrayal, criminal behavior, and just plain difficult circumstances.  They are heavy reading, and could discourage one from reading on, but that would be a mistake, so please, keep turning the pages.  
“What Men Do” is one of Gelineau’s horse poems from this first section. It combines a personal story about an injured farm cat that had to be put down with an account of World War I Australian soldiers who brought their horses to war, but were not allowed to bring them home for fear of carrying new diseases back to their island country.  The personal event: “While he aims, hesitates, she/waits. He shoots,/then again to be sure.//Apologists call it “the final kindness.”/What men do when they live up/to what is owed.”  These sentiments will be familiar to anyone who has had to have a cat euthanized, particularly if one is acquainted with rural and farm life.  The Australian story is much less common, and I was glad of the preparation the cat story provided.
                That final night together,
               the hardened young soldiers
                gathered their horses for a race meet,
                to drink in one last time that joy
                in what their bodies could do.
                Race over, they swiped and curried
                the sweated necks, sleek flanks,
                disentangled forelocks,
                fed their darlings tobacco and fruits
                then each laid his pistol
                in the hollow above his horse’s eye
                and squeezed.
Some of us spend time pondering the cost of war—in money, lives taken and damaged.  How many of us ponder the cost of war to animals—horses, dogs, dolphins we recruit, or animals we simply encounter in the execution of war in theater. And to the animal soul of people attached to these creatures.
The poems in Part 2, “Crave” I would characterize as life cycle love poems:  love of the physical life, the land and the world, love in birth and death, animal love, family and maternal love, love of art, married love, romantic love, and sexual passion ( of corn, among other things). For me a number of poems, some mentioned below, also hint at tribute to great poets who have gone before.
“Orbit,” the first poem in the section is an ars poetica prose poem that puts me in the mind of Maya Angelou’s ‘Phenomenal Woman.”  It is a sassy, musical dance with “verbs hot enough to broil a sausage on, even cooled it is too saucy for the gander.”  It joyously tugs and grinds the reader out of the somberness of the first section of the book.
“Felt like a Thought” is about the wonders of the fall season in the Northeastern United States. The references to “the tumult of geese chevrons/clamorously rowing the skies overhead,” provide an almost iconic image of the region referenced by so many poets, including Mary Oliver. 
“Anniversary in Paris,” about the love of the long married, references the trend of young lover to place a padlock on le Pont de l’Archevêché.  “[T]hey kiss and toss the key to the Seine./Forty years into our marriage we know better than to think of love/as a lock.”
“Curing” tells the story of life in a family house from the time of its building, to the raising and sending off of children and generations of horses. “These days I stand in the past even when I am/most present, most in the present, my memories the element/through which I experience experience. Is this richness?//or rigidity?”  A phenomenon and question well known to those of a certain age.
The first two lines of “Grace,” a poem about a dying friend are: “If you’re lucky, at some point/ordinary life becomes itself: something to inhabit, rather than/something to pass through. “ A better description of an embodied life is hard to find.
Let’s close with some lines from two of my favorite poems: “Love Among the Long-married” and “To-Do List for the Final Decades,” both of which evoke the joys of enduring marital love.  First from “Love Among the Long-married:”
                For their thirty-fifth wedding anniversary,
                the long-married plant a tree.
                Yes, they are exactly
                that stubborn.
                The long-married tell one another:
                Our memories are not what they used to be
                but in memory
                we are who we used to be:
                 your touch
                your touch alone
                and we slip slick
                into our 26 year-old bodies
                young  electric  and sleek

                no one else
                no one else
                can offer that
Next, some wonderful suggestions from the “To Do List for the Final Decades:”
                Fall in love in a foreign language.

                Compose a navigation song to chart your losses,
                And the way back.
                Learn to skate on the skin, the inexpressibly thin
                membrane where water meets air:
                master the skill of carving a caress
                into that tensile surface, a calligraphy
                as tender as hope.
And to finish, these lines that put me in mind of Leonard Cohen lyrics:
                Accommodate your own prodigal idealism: kill
                the fatted calf for truth; strike
                the timbrel, sing in the purpled
                shadows of dusk now, sing.

                Wave farewell with the torn
                scarf of your heart.
                Welcome into yourself the evening’s holy silence.
I can’t think of a better way to end in that song, or this review.

Caroline LeBlanc, former Army Nurse and civilian nurse psychotherapist, has had her essays and award winning poetry published in the US and abroad.  In 2010, Oiseau Press published Smokey Ink and a Touch of Honeysuckle, her chapbook about life as an Army wife and mother, and the descendent of 17th Century Acadian/French Canadian settlers in North America. As past Writer in Residence at the National Military Family Museum, she wrote the script for the museum’s traveling exhibit, Sacrifice & Service; co-produced and co-created the script for Telling Albuquerque and 4 Voices stage performances; and facilitated Standing Down, a NM Humanities Council book discussion group for veterans and family members. With Mitra Bishop, Roshi, Mountain Gate Zen Center, New Mexico, she offers veterans and women military family members Day of Mindfulness Meditation & Writing Retreats.  She also serves as clinical staff for Mountain Gate Regaining Balance residential retreats for the same individuals.  Before leaving the Fort Drum, NY area, in 2012 she offered Writing For Your Life programs to wounded warriors and military family members.  In 2011, Spalding University awarded her a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative writing.  Her art has won awards in New York and New Mexico.  She is a member of Albuquerque’s Rainbow Artists Collective, and a founding member of the Apronistas Collective of women artists who regularly mount community art shows highlighting women’s rights and ecological issues.   

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