Monday, April 27, 2015

Review: YAW, by Dani Couture

Disaster can come on sudden as the weather. This is the overarching theme in Dani Couture’s dark, compelling third collection of poetry, YAW, a book that feels at once deeply personal and wide open to the unsettling fears that can reside in us all. Catastrophe looms in both the large and the small in this tight, terse book as we move from abrupt highway crashes and descending tornadoes to the loss of friends and brief but unforgettable moments of abject aloneness.

Much of this collection pivots on grief and its often baffling aftermaths – captured in the book’s strongest and most telling poem, “Fact Check.” Told as if via a magazine editor’s disinterested attempts to verify details in a feature article, it instead reveals a torturous story of a stalker’s suicide and the complex emotions that unfurl for his victim in its wake. Can we have anything other than a litany of questions after such an event? The poem reveals that some of these queries come couched in the very specific:

did your friend sweep your vibrating cellphone into her purse?
did you leave the stove on, a candle lit, the iron plugged in?
did you take the bus home to check?
did you check again?
did he call from a pay phone in London?

while others reveal more generalized – and perhaps more permanent – terrors, questions that one cannot shake no matter how much time has passed:

did you lose the taste for sleep?
do the dead walk in your dreams?
do they still call you?
do the dead still call you?

One thing that YAW reminds us of over and over again is how thin the membrane of normality can be, and how easily disaster can puncture it, can let in a darker, more sinister reality. “Interview with a County Reporter” describes in horrifying detail a car crash that brings destruction even as it imbues a sense of forward momentum: “A body propelled/ through molared window./ We all have places to be.” The poem “F-Scale, Ohio” carries the same abrupt jolt, showing how a tornado can touch down on an unsuspecting populace and blow a whole town “out like a wish.”

Yet, despite these jarring catastrophes, there is much hope available to us in YAW if we go hunting for it. It’s there in the closing lines of “Carp,” where, despite the obvious arrival of cancer, “we can see how good we are/ how we always knew/ what was best, what, in the end, could be saved.” We can spot it in a poem like “Corrections,” one that reminds us – almost scolds us – that we get things wrong, horribly wrong, and yet can still touch a little bit of the truth if we try hard. In its closing piece, YAW lets us know that, for all the banal horror and abrupt changes of life, we do have blank walls to write on, that we can reclaim our stories and make them ours to tell again, to repopulate ourselves with the stories we wish to share with others.

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