Sunday, October 20, 2013

Kristy Bowen's The Shared Properties of Water and Stars

Kristy Bowen is the editor of Dancing Girl Press, and the author of a plethora of book and chapbook projects, most recently, beautiful, sinister (Maverick Duck Press, 2013) and Girl Show (forthcoming from Black Lawrence Press, 2013). This year has been a busy year for Bowen as she and Noctuary Press have also released the slim yet enchanting The Shared Properties of Water and Stars.

Reading this gem is like watching the television show Once Upon a Time, but as is usually the case, the book is better. Indeed, in the acknowledgements section, Bowen says, “Grateful acknowledgement to the myths and stories that are woven into the fabric of this fairytale, and to my family and friends for instilling in me a love of the magical and strange. “ Yes: “magical and strange”---the perfect description for Bowen’s work. This book in particular draws heavily from the tradition of fairy tales and other stories told before it. In fact, the opening pages make reference to Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll and The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman:

“The girl with the blonde hair holds a tin marked desire and keeps trying to hide it in the bureau. Her movements startle the starlings that have just begun to weave themselves into her hair. If both boxes are marked incorrectly, how long until the wallpaper begins to peel off in sheets? How long until she finds herself in the kitchen, every cup filthy in the sink? Every shoebox marked open me?”

Then, later, there is a nod towards Goldilocks and the Three Bears: “Let’s say the blonde girl has something shadowy whispering in her ear each night. Hundreds of bears lumber outside her windows…”

The stories told here have a vaguely Victorian feel; this is a world where domesticity has a sinister edge, where the plight of being female is keenly felt. We are surrounded by too much furniture and kitchen utensils, lipstick and dresses. But the utensils are filthy and the laundry is dirty; the light bulbs are bare. Amid this brokenness, there is a forced calmness in these female characters, but we as readers can especially feel the nasty storm brewing underneath. When male figures do appear, they do not arrive with good tidings or shiny gifts, and they often take on the characteristics of animals or are named after animals: “With the bear boy she builds a habitat for small, available broken things.” Then, a few lines later, “The rabbit man stands in his window silently and watches her as she hangs the wash on the line…The blonde girl knows the way the inside of the rabbit man’s mouth tastes. Like soap or aluminum.”

All of Bowen’s images are especially vivid—they fit together like a mystic puzzle. Each phrase is a natural progression from the image before it. I feel like I am in a slow floating boat, being gently pushed along from one sense experience to the next. Reading poems that are intuitive in this way—poems where the process of the writing is so pleasantly transparent--is a joyful experience for fellow poets such as yours truly. There is a world, and I can see it painted so clearly in my eye’s window.

Kristy Bowen’s Girl Show has yet to be released from Black Lawrence Press, but it will be here soon, and I can’t wait for Bowen’s voice to take me on another ride through her mind’s pages.

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