Friday, September 9, 2016

TANKA & ME, forty-some pages of lyrical insight into being a woman

(Mineral Point Poetry Series #1)
Brain Mill Press
$14.95 trade paper/eBook bundle, available now

Rating: 4* of five

The Publisher Says: TANKA & ME is a visceral, pleading, and fierce collection of poems, underpinned with thudding vessels and satisfying wreckage. Kaethe Schwehn externalizes the overlooked power of women into a multidimensional character who hunts both the speaker and the reader. Our wild Tanka engages down deep with role-play, sex, prayer, and refusal until we can’t look away or stay quiet. These are love poems, but they love with claws and whiskey, bolt cutters and saws. You can love someone for a long time without knowing how, our speaker realizes, and Tanka prowls and preens and breaks us down until we know how to love ourselves, how to know ourselves, how to free ourselves. TANKA & ME is feminist poetry with muscle, bones, and heart.

My Review: It is a modern axiom, supported by rigorous scientific research, that reading literary fiction demonstrably improves the reader's ability to empathize, possibly in my own opinion to identify, with others unlike themselves. I suppose it is a sad statement on a culture that we produce men who believe that rape is ever, in any way, at any time, acceptable—or even tolerable.

Here's an idea: Parents of sons need to give them reasons to read literary fiction, which I'll somewhat arbitrarily assume includes poetry. Start here. Schwehn's poetry is accessible to anyone, at least in my never-humble opinion. It is a speaker, self-described "...Midwestern white girl living in a town / where a bank raid is reenacted every year", in a colloquy with the titular character Tanka. She is both real and imaginary, both wild and tame, both alive and unreal. Yes, the antecedent is vague, but that characterization isn't:
Tanka, help.
I am here museless.
Water in the glass
and no flower or pubis or mule in the glass to amuse me.
My students have white smiles and even the soft blond
hair at their brows is pulled back tightly.

I am becoming deathly afraid that I am normal.
That the neon hills that once erupted in my dreams
will not return.
—from "Plea" on p27
Fun wordplay, fine imagery, a tight and focused poem. A window into the soul of each of us, certainly each adolescent, each creative soul, each adult working out how to do this mundane piece of work called living while still finding some sort of beauty and meaning in the exercise.

So, parents of sons, give them a reason to read this short book of accessible poems, and see if they don't come out the other side a bit more able to see beneath the surface of The Other to the core of human existence: No one knows how to do it; we're all floundering for meaning and connection; so speak to The Other just like you would to your own inner self.

It sure as hell can't hurt. It's a cheap experiment that might just change your son's life for the better.

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