Thursday, November 15, 2007

Poet du Jour: Sally Bliumis-Dunn

It makes me very happy when my own publisher, Wind Publications, puts out a collection I really like. It makes me proud to be keeping company with the likes of Ann Fisher-Wirth, JC Todd, and Tom Chandler. So I was delighted to read Sally Bliumis-Dunn's just-released Talking Underwater, which I am now pleased to recommend to you. These are poems that offer rewards on a first reading, then invite you back to plumb for hidden treasures. I was immediately drawn to the combination of plain language and elegance. I also admire the poet's knack for metaphors, something I noticed in "Injury," the collection's very first poem. I like how the metaphors here loop from one to the next: "When leaves die, / the tiny cups // at the ends of their stems / loosen from the branch, // and they are no longer / leaves: they are hands // slipping from their lives; / no, they are coins and flipping // slowly through the air; / or maybe rafts // bobbing on an ocean. . ."


Another quality I like in this collection is the fusion of opposites, a quality that adds richness and complexity to poetry. In "Angie, Leaving" the speaker asks, "Isn't it always like this— / joy and sorrow calling / to each other / across an open field?" Throughout the poems we find images of light and shadow playing off each other. Bliumis-Dunn also has a gift for nature poems, something not so easy to pull off. For me the secret of her success in such poems is the placement of people into the landscapes. How perfect and poignant the ending of "Angie, Leaving": "How strange the heart's / equivalents — / she is leaving: / it is snowing."

Many of these poems previously found good homes in such journals as Spoon River Poetry Review, Paris Review, and Prairie Schooner. Vijay Seshadri aptly describes their coming together in this poet's first collection: ". . . the drama of human consciousness stunned by its self-discovery in the physical world yet ever alert to the beauties and terrors of that world is everywhere present in this astonishing, abrupt, tender, precise, and crystalline collection. To call Talking Underwater a magnificent first book is to do gravely insufficient justice to the scope and rigor of Bliumis-Dunn's voice, which is not just mature but triumphant."

I'll end with two poems that I think nicely suggest the sensuous pleasures that await the reader.

Tulip Magnolias

I would be a tree
of tulip magnolias:
closed blossoms
like the tips of paintbrushes,
wet, just dipped.

Then I would open
my blossoms
enough to show
the outline of each petal:
deep mauve
thinning into veins
that fade into a misty
arc of white:
each petal

like the underside of a tongue,
lifted around
the center of a blossom
the way the tongue lifts
to the upper lips,
lowers as the blossom

fully opens, the way
the tongue lowers
and rests in the mouth —

as though each of my petals
could have spoken
one word
could have spoken it, stretched
over so much time

it was out of the range
of human hearing.
I would know

what it is like
to speak beyond
the range of hearing.


Spring Light

I shine through clouds
of pink and white blossom,
but that's not all that makes
the air seem brighter:

I am the transparent blue,
the reflections in the air
between cherry tree
and plum, reflections you sense

more than see;
even the dead azalea bush
wears me like a skin.
I'm all around you.

I diffuse, if only a little,
the singularity of existence —
rock, squirrel, worm —
which is why you mostly ignore

the thick green of June,
when my bare intensity is gone,
and I'm heavy in the heat,
and blend in mottled shadow.

Why is it you so love
to look up at new spring leaves —
pale windows
so beautifully not yet

themselves,
still part light, part air?

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