EILEEN TABIOS Engages
Memory Cards by Susan M. Schultz
(Singing Horse Press, San Diego, CA 2011)
This is the first poetry collection I read after Michael Leong’s CUTTING TIME WITH A KNIFE. Like Leong’s, the poems are written from a structured starting point instead of an author’s conscious desire to say something specific.
Unlike Leong’s, though, Schultz ends up returning to what are overtly personal concerns: adoption (she’s an adoptive Mom), baseball, the local (including Hawai’i, her residence), memory losses (her Mom had suffered from Alzheimer’s), beloved poets, among others. This reminds me of an interview I did last century with Tan Lin wherein he said, among other things, “You can never really get away from [your] ‘I’.”
But, as with Leong’s, the resulting poems are fresh, bearing the rewards of risk-taking, with “risk” being defined as, while facing the blank page, openness to the still unknown result. For Memory Cards, Schultz wrote prose poems described by an Author’s note to be “composed to fit on a time or index card. The first line in each poem was randomly drawn from a book by [another] poet.” Schultz’s first lines were provided by Lissa Wolsak, Norman Fischer, Emily Dickinson, Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery, George Oppen, Albert Saijo and Lyn Hejinian.
Here’s a sample poem whose first line is provided by Wallace Stevens:
Lenin on a bench beside a lake disturbed Adrenaline-drenched at on a bench at Waikiki calls in airsstrike on an imaginary phone. The youngish man in Bob Marley shirt at Zippy’s carries a cane; a scar runs below his right ear down to his shoulder. (Lyndon Johnson’s appendectomy.) But for the tourists, no low-tecch genocide museum. The bucolic field that once was Dachau, before Dachau became the local industry. The first symptom of PTSD is often a TRO. I was astonished by a man with gray hair on a moped in Siem Riep. He was not the man for egrets, or egress. No matter what, sentences cohere, bunch, refuse to budge, resist the lack of transition. A Vietnam vet tore all the yellow ribbons off a hillside in Kailua. I enjoy my anger management classes. The doctor told me to take it out on my pillow. When I tried to vent, she said I was complicit, didn’t like my sense of humor. My friend heard the shots in Makiki. Don’t take this wrong, but he was a nice guy.
What’s telling about the above example—and many other poems in the book—is how Schultz’s references are not just varied but plenty. She crams in a lot onto the space of a single index card!
By the way, one thing this book reveals is the accomplishment of the referenced poets—they did write such evocative lines that it’s logical they can inspire, as they did as poetry prompts for Schultz. For instances:
“As I wrote that line a leaf flew by”—Norman Fischer
“Of the goggles of memory”—John Ashbery
“Motherhood is so much information”—Lyn Hejinian
“Against the murderous alphabet”—Wallace Stevens
“Let us finish each other’s songs”—Lissa Wolsak
Here’s another sample poem with the first line offered by Emily Dickinson:
Infection in the sentence breeds despair. “Despair has stopped listening to music.” Many women take to knitting or to taking care. The woman on the 30-year pile of refuse was naked, surrounded by cat corpses. Offer hoarders your love and patience, a funeral for her pets. Hoarding is ritual without content, frame without room, the body of the beloved without its being, a sentence in disrepair. Changed mind moves subject to predicate. Predicate falls from the stage, breaks a heel, but not his saxophone. The Holocaust is a post-memory that does not fit this narrow card. Its historian learns again to swallow. My mother saw men in pajamas put up cardboard structures. When asked to say her own name, she says (and she’s serous) she does not know.
This may be my favorite in the book, for both a gorgeous opening line and a deeply-resonant riff by Schultz—ahhh! Hoarding is ritual without content, frame without room, the body of the beloved without its being, a sentence in disrepair.
Okay, one more sample for hearkening 21st century times (with first line by John Ashbery), and which I found amusing:
This past is sampled and is again / The right one, the one they choose for you at amazon.com, given your history of commodity fetishism. What’s at stake is the promise of a reading at the table outside an herbal store in Chinatown. In dementia, anything can be foretold, especially the past, its peculiar junctures, intersections, the lights flashing orange—is there any other level of alert?—a siren in the near distance. If you know the word for your home, you still cannot find it. It’s a mansion with no lawn, no jockey by the driveway, exoskeleton to no insect you can see, both truth and a façade. What remains is husk; there are vats of it in the markets, promising a cure to the disease that sits atop your tongue, but cannot say its name. Mute hamlet still can’t make up his ind, like a bed or a fairy tale. But now you can talk back. There’s an app for it.
Ultimately, reading through this book, I thought of something, Dear Reader. I thought this: “I’ve written over 20 poetry books. What does it take for one of them to get Susan Schultz’s attention? Oy—you want first lines? I got first lines!”
Shameless, aren’t I? That I choose to be transparent about this is the highest compliment I can pay to Sussan Schultz’s Memory Cards. For it deserves to be HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor. An exception is made for the relational elations of ORPHANED ALGEBRA as that was co-written with another author, j/j hastain--and it is reviewed by T.C. Marshall in this GR #20 issue. She is also pleased to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her books. Her 2013 book, THE AWAKENING was reviewed by Tom Beckett at L'Amour Fou; by Amazon Hall of Famer Reviewer Grady Harp on Amazon and elsewhere; by Joey Madia at Literary Aficionado; by Edric Mesmer at Yellow Field; by Zvi Sesling at Boston Area Small Press & Poetry Scene; and by jim mccrary and his cat Iris at Babaylan Poetics. Her 2007 book, SILENCES: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF LOSS, was also recently reviewed by Nicholas T. Spatafora in Litter Magazine.