“into the mouths of bees”

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These notes are part of my “read 100 poetry books in 12-ish months” effort. Far from an official review, they represent first impressions and provide some context for what I brought to the reading of the text.

5 of 100: Paradise, Indiana by Bruce Snider (2016, Pleiades Press; first printing 2012)

Quick, personal thoughts:

  • If you asked me about my work, I’d say that place is very important to me in my poems and in all of my writing. But then I’d be hard-pressed to point to a poem I’ve written that demonstrates it. (*Sigh.* Note to self. All that.) But a sense of place — and heat from all that sex — is exactly why the opening poem “Map” grabs me right away. That, plus it plays with what’s expected and unexpected, which is the precise kind of texture “place” needs in our poems.
  • The physicality of these poems — achieved, I believe, through terrific detail — also appeals to me. It’s something else I seek in my own work.
  • At a poetry reading in State College, Pennsylvania, years ago, my friend Jason Crane responded to my reading of a poem I named “Tenderness” with something like: “Classic Carolee to have a poem about tenderness… that had a dead body in the river in it.” Suffice to say, my poems play with the dead quite a bit, and in Snider’s collection, there are a lot of dead/decomposing human/animal/plant bodies. The way Snider details them is spectacular and totally unsentimental, which I very much appreciate. Instead of decomposing, they undress (“you / kept putting on your show, / bones undressing like / it’s never over, throwing / off your last great shift”). Instead of being truly lifeless, they are animated (“Even their skulls, / picked clean, look upwards, knowing / nothing of their missing eyes.”) This plays out in a terrific way in the final poem — which is about gutting a deer — but I won’t spoil it.

Lines I want to remember:

  • “I kiss my love, taking his hand near the deer stand. / Honey is fragrant on the table, and there is thunder in Indiana.” // “Lord, the boys touch other boys, eating fried dough / and glazed apples, lips sticky with syrup and heat in Indiana.” // “Soon, spring buds will thrust their sex organs into the mouths of bees. / Their story is the story of Indiana.”
  • “desire, dry heat, and such sudden / night licking the street lamps into flame.”
  • “Some nights the streets divided me / like one of those snowy Indiana towns” // “some mornings the fields / were so vast in their whiteness that the silos // towered like the future, ice-caked and glistening.”
  • “For days I watch / a cabbage rose moving / sunward and ravenous, gone/ gorgeous in its foul / disintegrating heart.”
  • “something inside him waited / to emerge as a flock of starlings / made a shadow of his face, the cold / night swallowing old row boats / on a shoreline it had already erased.”

What others have said:

  • The Rumpus: “Snider is a master of the quiet moment, his memory-driven narratives slowly unfolding until the accumulation becomes a kind of redemption, which is what all poetry should aspire to.” / “his gorgeous book is, of course, an extended elegy, yet it begs the question: How does one memorialize a love whose memory many would rather keep suppressed? The poems themselves are the answer as they ponder what those left living in the aftermath of any tragedy must do to make some fractured sense of it all.”
  • Behind the Lines: “Bruce Snider’s Indiana is all these things at once: cars, nature contained, sex, death and resurrection. Paradise, Indiana, is an essential chronicle of a grieving, horny Midwest.”

Where some of the poems from this collection live online:

Have you read this collection? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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