February 1, 2014

Review: Lori A. May's Square Feet (Accents Publishing, 2014. 78 pages.) 

Lori A. May's second book of poetry explores the liminal spaces of unused rooms, the time before and after communal meals, Tuesday mornings, empty wombs, and the space in which couples comprise individuality to build a life together. In Square Feet's playful and image-rich free verse, May negotiates these often ignored areas with the direct gaze of a documentary cinematographer and the ear of an expert eavesdropper.

In the style of William Carlos William's "The Red Wheelbarrow," May hones the collection's brief moments into homages of daily life. The speakers in May's poems are caught in moments of clarity, moments rich with portent:

                           Arbor Clock

                          leaves snap against glass

                          waking us to window pain
                          the elm tree persists 

The moment reverberates between waking and sleep, suggesting possibilities: an ending marriage, going to bed mad and waking up angrier, the long downhill slope of aging. May leaves generous room for readers to explore their own reactions and associations.

There are several poems that navigate the ache of loss and remorse. May does this through the household rituals of cleaning, ordering, planning. Like the Objective Correlative, that T. S. Eliot made famous, May's featured objects (vacuums, "misplaced birthday gifts," coffee cups) act as confessional conduits without quite being confessions, but more like the hesitancy before confessions are expressed.  May's poems are intimate without being bogged down with sentimentality. 

In "Erasure," the speaker "can't bring herself to dust/sweep memories away. . ." It is not time; it is the space between holding on and letting go—but not yet. This tension appears in many poems in this collection and ties many of the brief poems together into a larger narrative.

The playful poem, "C'est Ceci. This is It." Gives reader an intermission from grief. Like subtitled French films, May finds a way for language to  become more by reflection. For those of us with rickety college French, this poem becomes a whimsical refresher lesson.

C’est nous.
           It is we.
          Si je l’avais vu, je lui aurais parlé.
                        If I had seen him, I would have spoken to him. 

C’est vous.
            It is you.
            Si elle avait cherché un peu plus longtemps, elle l’aurait trouvé.
                        If she had looked a little longer, she would have found it.

May's use of sardonic humor counterbalances poems of grief and longing. Our lives are peppered with benign moments, that in memory carry the weight of bittersweet omens.

Square Feet concludes on a note of optimism: "a flinch of a grin confessing . . . in the poem, "(Re)Genesis," and in the poem, "A Fresh Coat," may writes, "It take times to clear the air./ I breathe beside you still." With Valentine's Day in a few weeks, Square Feet would be the perfect collection for a couple that has fallen in love, grown together, and have more falling to do.

I've know Lori's work through her essays, and I've enjoyed getting to know Lori A. May's poetry. Lori writes in many genres. To access more of her writing, visit loriamay.com.


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