Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Allie Marini Batts' Unmade & Other Poems

Though Allie Marini Batts has only published one other chapbook besides Unmade and Other PoemsYou Might Curse Before You Bless published by ELJ Publications in 2013—Batts is clearly a talented, promising poet. She is the Managing Editor at  Zoetic Press and NonBinary Review, and she just announced that her first full-length book Before Fire is forthcoming from ELJ Publications later this year. Among other accolades, Batts was also recently nominated for Sundress Publications’ Best of the Net Anthology by Drunk Monkeys for her short fiction piece “Dead Soldiers in the Ashtray.”

Though Batts is a minimalist poet at heart, and many of these poems are as tightly packed as Emily Dickinson’s verse, Unmade materializes into a fragmented narrative of a divorce. Not only is the speaker of the poems often addressing her ex-lover directly, the poems themselves carry on a dialog between one another. There are repeated images, tropes, and themes which overlap to create a cohesive narrative thread.

This dialog the poems have with one another is apparent in poems like “breeding trumpet flowers out of the dead ash” and “perennial blooms” which are tied together by the common trope of a garden. Poems like “dealer’s choice” and “your fickle hands” are unified by their shared theme of gambling. In “dealer’s choice” the speaker says,

let’s build a house from nothing,
an endless front of discreet failures and little deaths inside,
cards are our architecture as well as our game.

you may hold the deck, but there’s an Ace up my sleeve,
I’ll cut it while you deal—and you’ll do it in style.

Then, in “your fickle hands” the speaker says,

this game we play in measured time.
I am faithful to the point of pain to make my point.
you have not noticed.
but in my twisted heart, I have won this round.

Though there are these common threads, the poems don’t require each other to make sense; they have a kind of autonomy and can stand on their own. There is a rawness to these poems. They are almost shocking in their vulnerability and honesty. Batts isn’t afraid to take risks in this book. She is deft in her ability to harness weighted nouns like “failure,” “death,” and the speaker’s own heart to push the narrative forward.

One way the narrative reveals itself in these poems is the inclusion of mythology and fairytales to speak about a modern romance gone wrong like in the poems “sleeping beauty awakes” and “hunter.” In the latter, Batts references the myth of Orion and Atremis, the speaker assuming the point of view of the goddess:

me the moon, goddess of the hunt, and you Orion,
felled by Scorpio.
You are hung in the sky, and I have fallen upon my own arrows

Though it seems that the same person is speaking in each of these poems, Batts is able to embody various voices, tones and characters while maintaining a consistent identity. I was especially impressed by “Slip Stitch”—the high diction and intriguing word choice masks the bitterness and melancholy that runs underneath the surface. The poem begins innocently enough:

Wicked poppet—
you unravel faster than I knit,
these yarns made up of so many more memories
than threads of lin.

The uncommon vocabulary particularly stands out here. “Poppet” is not a common endearment that we usually hear in America in 2014; nor is the word “lin” often used in today’s vernacular. Again, I think Batts chose these words with a precise intention. This poem is a clever lie—a misdirection, almost like a magic trick. The overstatement of feeling actually points to an opposing sentiment. As the poem progresses, the bitterness begins to show itself even more, as in the surprising line: I would stab you with these needles if I could just catch you. But there are parts of the poem where the speaker exposes her softer, more sentimental side:

That awkward tangle was once a pattern,
A erstwhile sock perhaps, but mine no less

But then, the poem returns to its initial bitter tone and closes with the lines,

Fine, brat, unmake me.
It is your feet that will be cold, what do I care for that?

“Slip Stitch” has echoes of some of Elizabeth Bishop’s poems; I know that Bishop is an influence for Batts, and I enjoyed how she was able to weave Bishop’s voice with hers in such an engaging way. After all, all works of art are a kind of tapestry or chorus made up of multiple voices: the multiple voices that speak throughout the text; the voices that have influenced the poet writing the poems, as well as the voices of our fellow poets and mentors. Again, the dialog that transpires in this piece is admirable and inspiring.

I was also drawn to the insertion of self-referential moments in poems like “All But Dissertation”:

Sheaves of laser-printed pages,
stacked first like bricks,
then fanned out around her like
a student’s ring of salt, warding off
the demons of never finishing.

These nods to the personal compliment the other elements of the chapbook and highlight Batt’s eclectic use of voice as a poetic device.

The poems in Unmade make me wonder how a poet might facilitate the shift from a minimalist voice to a narrative one. How do we occupy both styles of poetry; both voices at once? I am curious to see how Batts’s poems will evolve over time, and I predict that Batts’s forthcoming work might have a more narrative flare, though I hope she maintains the beautiful and haunting imagery that is present in this collection.

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