Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Review from 30.1

Catherine Imbriglio. Parts of the Mass. Providence, Rhode Island: Burning Deck / Anyart, 2007. $14.00 paper (ISBN 978-1-886224-81-0), 64 pages.

Reviewed by Ryan Teitman

Catherine Imbriglio’s Parts of the Mass—a collection that trembles with the passion of the Catholic liturgy—resonates like a well-struck tuning fork. Imbriglio has so heavily infused these poems with the sounds and rhythms of the Mass that the book becomes a testament to divinely-used language comingling with secular, everyday forms.

Each poem takes a different section of the Mass and resurrects it as something new. A series of letters turns the epistles into corporate memos complete with headers and time stamps. The poem “Antiphon,” a play on call-and-response prayer, careens from subjects as disparate and as Mussolini’s hands, brain mass, and sweaty farmhands. And while the religious—or at least overtly religious—content of the Mass falls away in each of her poems, Imbriglio leaves something much more powerful in its place: the echoing rhythm of the liturgy.

In the collection’s opener, “In Nomine,” Imbriglio lays out her poetic catechism in the prose poem’s first few lines: “Say forth, say forthwith, in the name of colors, of real colors, in the name of real colors named, in the initial real color named, say Brunelleschi, say curvature, say Sir Francis Crick.” Throughout the collection, repetition is working in the same as the work as prayer: the communion is in the act of saying, not necessarily in the meaning of the words that are said. In “Gospel According to the Middle,” the book’s linguistic play hits its most biblical key: “In the beginning was the who, and the world was with who, and the world was who.”

The poems in Parts of the Mass contain no traditional narratives, and even concrete images are scarce. But in pieces like “Psalm,” Imbriglio shows how a poem can be carried on the sheer luxury of words alone:

Lay your hands upon me, you in the black bent grass, the body in motion that
stays in motion, so too in your drifting to or from me, in the pictures of the
body that provoke the body, judica me, you in the blackpoll warbler, judica me,
you in the black-tailed godwit.
The recurrence of “body” and “motion,” along with the repeated invocation of “judica me” (translating to “do me justice,” or “judge me”) tows the reader through the poem’s thick, lush sounds. Imbriglio further emphasizes these types of repetitions by combining them with a fragmentary structure that sometimes forgoes complete sentences in the name of distinct rhythmic tones. “Psalm,” which appropriates the form of a telegram, further pushes the disjointed voice that Imbriglio experiments with in many of the poems:

If without if without finding stop. What impudicity what who me stop. This is
stop no speech no language where the voice from the wilderness stop.
Throughout the book, sentences in poems sometimes end on articles, such as “the,” or other unnatural points, which are jarring when first encountered, but the poems build on that unease by continuing to push the boundaries of syntax. “Introibo” shows how the articles can serve to replace the nouns they were tethered to: “It seems to me, but also the. To be freed of the.” The lines then become not about the articles themselves, but what comes after—the missing words. They become a repetition of the unsaid.

While the book leans toward non-traditional forms and linguistic patterns, its real artistry is in creating a textured, fully-realized space for itself within the framework of the Mass. Fundamentally, prayer is a type of poetry, and Imbriglio’s poems turn both the everyday and the obscure into a new kind of benediction. Her haunting linguistic prowess transcends any boundaries of form.

Friday, January 23, 2009

A Meditation on New Year's Resolutions

There are lots of common New Year's resolutions: not to procrastinate, to exercise, to figure out why the refrigerator is leaking (okay, maybe that's specifically just for me). But after coming back from our winter holiday, the IR staff clearly saw that many of you got right to work on your resolutions: submitting your fiction, nonfiction, and poems to journals. And we're glad you chose us!

We do want you to know, however, that because of all the enthusiasm of the New Year, we were swamped with submissions in December and January. We're going to keep working to respond as quickly as possible, but we might take a little longer than normal until we catch up. We'll be back to status quo soon.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama and Orwell

It's the day after Inauguration Day, and besides Aretha's amazing hat, there was a lot to talk about. But, since we're a literary journal, we thought we'd admire a kind of writing that's often ignored and unrecognized--like letter-writing--speech writing:
This is literature.

In other news, George Orwell died on this day 59 years ago. Check out his essay, "Politics and the English Language," and see how Obama (or Obama's speech writer) measures up.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Best American

Congratualtions to Barbara Hamby, whose poem "Ode to Airheads, Hairdos, Trains to and from Paris," was selected for Best American Poetry 2009! Barbara's ode can be found in our Winter 2007 issue, 29.2.

Monday, January 12, 2009

We're back!

Happy New Year! We may be twelve days late in sending you our wishes, but it's still going to be a happy new year. And along with the new year, we are also now accepting submissions for the Indiana Review 2009 Poetry Prize.

Natasha Trethewey will select the winner, who will receive $1000 and publication in Indiana Review. All entries are considered anonymously, and all entrants receive a one-year subscription to the magazine. Submit up to three poems per entry. For complete guidlines, please go to our website.

We look forward to reading your poems!