Sue Goyette. Undone
Reviewed by Barbara Myers (Arc 54 Summer 2005)
Sue Goyette's long lines of poetry about grief, loss, small celebrations, and keeping on, take the suffocation out of suffering although their exquisite precision succeeds very well in communicating pain. In this, her second poetry collection, Goyette is at her most powerful probing concrete images for meaning, the comfort of a grant of understanding, the beginning of acceptance, rooted in domestic details, in children, rooms and attics, windows rattling in the wind, and everywhere the absence of the beloved. She has a striking gift for metaphor. In "Alone," the cat "just wants to stay out all night" but "her cry, plaintive and despairing wakes me… morning, I open the door/ to her joy at finally being remembered… Cats are our hearts:/ the purring, the nine lives." The first of the book's there sections, "Forgotten," has quite a lot to say about pain. In "And After" the speaker remembers how it used to be, while her daughter "complains now at how often I say I'm lonely. This, she says, is what you wanted. Another poem, another/ poem, I think each time I find myself crying in the Superstore." In "Kindred," the middle section, the sequence of poems, "Tattoo" demonstrated the breadth of her craft, with its arresting connections -- the Gravitron ride and a tattoo parlour at a fair's midway, the way Georgia O'Keeffe "stayed in the room with her irises/ for the two weeks they lived, not wanting to miss/ a mount… I saw you the same way." How less quietly persuasive the poem might have been if these lines had been broken, shorter ---this is at the heart of Goyette's craft, the long Whitmanesque (via Neruda) lines. If long lines in poetry suggest a greater-than-human power, the sense of an unstoppable machine (as Mary Oliver suggests), then the steady clear-voiced narrative, with no hint of breathlessness, is turbo-driven. Even the design of the book, horizontal or landscape, serves to showcase the poems' relentlessness. They feel spun from inexhaustible threads, pulled ever further and finer, but gently, so they don't break. The poet's examination has been thorough, she's held her objects, felt their lumps and grittiness, their smooth and rough textures, looked at them this way and that, and without ever suggesting that this its he last word, has rendered truthfully and vividly how it seems to be. In "Lawn" from the third section, "Apprentice," overgrown grass in winters seen to have not only an unanticipated beauty, but to be right. The speaker wants her son to know that its pleasure keeps her at the window "and now, in the beginning/ of winter, it's the light I watch stretching, the blossom of it against the dark." The poem "Apprentice" is a tour de force on the subject of longing, weaving myth, memory, and a growing daughter's apprenticing of her imagination while the mother points out reality, "the eagles/ the startled deer in the meadow/ on the side of the road. And she will cry…" These are tender poems, with a little more light than those in the previous sections. Throughout, Goyette handles her material in a fresh, intimate way, so that subjects rooted securely in time are freed for immortality.