Lost Work Book W/ Letters To Deer by Catherine Meng
(Dusie and auch press, 2009)
Catherine Meng is a writer who likes to employ a fixed structure for her poetry, Tonight’s The Night (Apostrophe Books, 2007), is a book length of poems all beginning with the title, “Tonight’s The Night,” her chapbook, Dokument (Perichord Books, 2008) consist of 14 dokuments in the form of individual poems, so I was curious to see how Meng would enter into her latest chapbook. Lost Work Book W/ Letters To Deer consist of 4 poem titles, which are repeated throughout the book. The titles include “Ordinary Time” followed by “Letters To Deer,” “Lessons” and “Exercise.” This structure allows Meng to move from serious to absurd to humor, ultimately creating a carefully arranged and wildly inventive world for the reader’s indulgence.
One of my favorite poems is “1st October in Ordinary Time” and here’s a portion of it:
a true creature of moods God is
a walrus with one broken tusk who
established both bias & blobs
of jelly streaming tresses that float upon
waves as well as the unscanable line
Meng builds this idea of the walrus, which is then repeated and modified later in the chapbook. Meng also critiques and jokes about the “poetry world” which is refreshing since there have been so many controversies and irate blog posts that one can lose sight that poets still have a sense of humor. Here’s a portion of “Letter to Deer #4”
Presently I am working on 2 rebuttals. The first
I think you will find funny. The second is more influenced
by disco. Ah disco! Remember that time I fell
for the transvestite dancing on the mantle?
There is so much the others don’t know & no
number of flashbacks will change that.
Just like in Tonight’s The Night the idea of music, its sound, rhyme and rhythm all pulsate through Meng’s poems in this collection. Although they are not the primary obsession they still filter through her verse such as in “Lesson 6: Symmetry,” “While the ashes revive revise the music. / You want it to stiffen with a give. / But whatever you do, don’t give. / Remember the hammers? Replay the hammers. / Here Meng is seducing the reader with her insistence of alliteration and repetition. The way “Remember” becomes “Replay” is typical of the kind of wit and skill Meng uses to push forward or intentionally derange her poems. “Lesson 7: In Event of Extremes,” is another example of how Meng focuses and sifts the music of her lines, as well as, uses rhetorical strategy to build her line:
Hoist all the red flags high to be belicked by the wind.
What is left to rot in the rain will soon blanch into rhyme.
Remember the kid who thought it was called “The Summer of My German
That’s the kind of guy you want on your raft.
Be wary of the red-haired Gioia.
When she says you shouldn’t wait for the frost maybe you should.
I assure you that you don’t want to wait until the frost to read this delightful chapbook but it’s so good you may find yourself re-reading it during those long winter months.
Steven Karl’s poetry has appeared in or is forthcoming from Coconut, Boog City, Taiga, Vanitas, Barrow Street, and others. His reviews have appeared in Sink Review, Cold Front Magazine, Octopus, and Galatea Resurrects. He lives in Manhattan.