Good poetry, especially in the small press world, is difficult to come by. I don’t intend this as an attack on small presses in any way; take it as a testimony to the difficulty of writing poetry that truly resonates with readers. Poetry requires more than mere images. The image, after all, doesn’t bubble up from a vacuum; it is inherently mediated by language, and language is a rather tricky medium. It resists direct communication between image and audience, since what language renders is closer to thought than a snapshot. Perhaps this is why poetry seems closely related to music. Thought is whisked along by emotion, since there must be an impetus for reflection to occur. If this is the case, language, particularly poetic language, is primarily a vehicle of emotion.
The difficulty of poetry is the communication of emotion. Communication, as Bataille points out, is violence, while emotion is like a leaking cask filled with precious liquid. How difficult it is to splatter even a small quantity across the page before the supply runs dry! The poet might sacrifice communication to abstraction, or she may find herself lacking the skill to take cautious aim with her limited resource. Poetry, in other words, tends to try too hard, or not hard enough.
India LaPlace’s short collection from Analog Submission Press, Sad Discoveries, might look like a case of the latter at first flush. With its colloquial language and well-worn themes of heartache, depression, and the struggles of parenthood, it might prove tempting to accuse it of amateurism. Give it a chance, however, and LaPlace’s unadorned narrative voice is bound to draw you in with its confessional authenticity. Yes, I brought up “authenticity,” that frustratingly ambiguous yardstick–what else can you call the pleading inertia of guilt in “They’ll Say it was Postpartum Depression,” or the dejected anger of “Illinois”? As much as I dislike to think in terms of “authenticity,” I can’t deny that poetry, as an art form, trades in artifice. The difficulty of poetry is finding the point of trade between communication and artifice that proves most beneficial. By declining to hide behind what we could charitably think of as poetic pretension, LaPlace doesn’t pull any punches. As LaPlace warns us in “Emotions,” “I am not the kind of girl / Who will lie about my feelings / To spare yours.” And thank God for that.
This little book is truly a gem for readers who are seeking a poetic intimacy that may get a little uncomfortable. Moments of conversational discomfort–and these poems really are quite “conversational”–are also the moments in life you are least likely to forget. Sad Discoveries hovers in the melancholy warmth of a good cry in a stranger’s arms, or in the sudden blush of affection filling the gashes left by harsh words. LaPlace’s reader sinks into the dreary no man’s land of dull pain and small comforts. This is not a place for overblown sentiments. Sad Discoveries is the drama of everyday life, rendered in an offhand verse tempered by a natural flair for form.
While “authenticity” (whatever that means) wouldn’t be quite enough, and atmosphere might have been, LaPlace’s true victory resides in her keen eye for detail. Throughout her collection, understated moments of symmetry drift quietly to the surface of her free verse. The impact of these moments is only enhanced by their modest refusal to call attention to themselves. Take the following lines from “Depression,” in which LaPlace deploys a well-worn cliche:
“You work your way up.
You work hard.
And then you retire.”
The way first line ends on the stressed syllable, “up,” contrasts the wilting iamb “retire,” guiding the reader through a microcosm of the occupational rise and fall most of us are doomed to regard with familiarity. Better yet, both lines are separated by the three-stress march of “you work hard.” Here, you can feel the dumb drumbeat of a billion footsteps, marching in unison to their cubicles, a march synchronized to the beating of a heart, and equally inevitable. I said it was a cliche, and LaPlace doesn’t shrink from using more; a cliche beautifully rendered, however, can hardly be accused of remaining a cliche at all.
One of my favorite stanzas is the third of “Her”:
“She doesn’t lose her temper with me.
She watches me with those
big blue eyes
filled with worry,
filled with love.”
The iambs of the leading tetrameter and trimeter are magnificently broken here by the relatively stressed, consecutive syllables of “big blue eyes.” This metrical rift places an emphasis on the child’s blue eyes that holds throughout the stanza. How could one more effectively establish the centrality of an image in verse than this? It’s as if the considerations of the preceding iambs collapse before the sovereign gaze of innocence; the world of lost tempers and daily frustrations vanishes in a shade of blue that certainly occupies much of a narrator’s ruminations. The double trochees on “filled with worry” invert the iambic pattern, creating a thick tension that gently resolves with soft stress of “love” in the final iamb.
Love. Worry. Hate. Desire. It’s far from a fault of LaPlace that her approach to these all-too-human concerns is, despite its nakedness, fraught with a care that comes from a true appreciation of their raw power. Of course, there is room to grow (when is there not?) but I, for one, am confident that Sad Discoveries is the inauguration of a poetic voice destined to find its way into the hands of poetry lovers. I will be looking for more from LaPlace, and I hope that her courage, both in composition and in the face of the difficult situations that have inspired these discoveries, never abandons her.
–Justin A. Burnett
India LaPlace is:
Writer. Feminist. Sunshine person. Associate Editor at Horror Sleaze Trash. Former priestess on the Isle of Avalon, current swamp witch, aspiring Queen of the Underworld. Grit, grace, and ganja in the SL,UT. Mother of a child who has far more patience for my subpar parenting skills than I have for most things. Generally pleasant, naturally cynical. Easily won over by a good book and a twisted sense of humor. I’m kind of like if a dive bar and a dumpster fire had a human baby. I’m also currently balls deep in a newfound Morrissey obsession and I don’t care how you feel about it.
I can be found frequenting the farmers market on Saturday mornings in the summertime in Salt Lake City, avoiding parties I had previously agreed to attend, and on Facebook,