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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sarah Vap: Following Rukeyser's Dictum

Back in the early 1960s, poet Muriel Rukeyser asked a question that many of today's female poets, including Sarah Vap, feel a great urge to answer: What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? Rukeyser's answer, the world would split open, comes the closest to preparing readers for Vap's work as I can muster.

In preparing for my upcoming interview with Sarah Vap, I read with rapt intent her new book, Faulkner's Rosary, and attended her recent reading Seattle's Open Books. What helped me even more to get myself in gear was going online and watching an amazing video of her November 2, 2010, reading at Arizona State University's Virginia Piper Center (If you missed her reading there, or in Seattle, or anywhere else she's recently read, I strongly suggest that you go online and treat yourself to one of the best poetry readings I've come across in years. )

I was already a fan of Sarah's work, having enjoyed her two earlier books (Dummy Fire and American Spikenard), but this new book, with its intensely religious iconography and rigorous refusal to keep mum about the dailiness of being "with child," grabbed my immediate and rapt attention.

Sarah was raised Catholic. During her ASU reading she shares that she attended church 3x a week as a girl growing up in Missoula, MT. Echoes of a catechism-ed girlhood resonate throughout this book, but in no way do these reverberations result in a cloying or oppressive tone. Instead, these poems rapturously embrace her prayer-laden, mystical, reverence-for-family past. In an unexpected coup d'grace, Vap's "take" from her liturgical upbringing is to write poems electrically charged with not only cathedral-ic beauty, but pantheistic and paganistic beauty as well.

If you're not sure yet whether to spring for the entire book, here's a poem to help you decide:

Linea Nigra: cross of jubilee

My innermost is a circle

holding your belly, the size
of a grain of rice.

My innermost is a wild upland,
and he piddling backwater of your father's

and my
libertinage. Star, I'm lit by the foxfire

of your very nub.

The blue braids in your baby blanket
are from the trousers of a state-trooper;

the blue tint of my labia
is the slip of a man. My broad

and round ligaments
would tie chicken feathers

to the thoraxes of bees and follow
them back to their hive

where the weight of you--that's our each-other.

My world is sunlight. Your world
is a single wave wrapped aroud.

within me, our slightest idea

turned into roselight and chained

behind the sternum.


Maureen said...

Thank you for this introduction to a poet whose name is unfamiliar to me.

Martha Silano said...

You're very welcome, Maureen!

Kathleen said...

Yay, Muriel! Yay, Sarah! Yay, Martha! You split my world.

Martha Silano said...

Great news, Kathleen. Glad you enjoyed.