Heidi Lynn Staples
Ahsahta Press ($17.50)

by Katie Fowley

Heidi Lynn Staples revels in using words in the wrong ways. She uses adjectives as nouns, small parts of speech as subjects, and she butchers and inverts common idioms and clichés. Her poetry is one of homonyms and near-homonyms. Some poems are homonymic echoes of poems by Paul Celan, and almost everything she writes begins to sound like a homonymic echo of something else. For example, when she writes, “I was having a reeling god’s wine,” we hear I was having a really good time; when she writes, “I can’t street straight,” we hear I can’t see straight. Sometimes her idiosyncratic use of language puns on the conventional phrase; having a really good time is kind of like drinking “a reeling god’s wine.”

There is an exuberant quality to Staples’s poetry, and her rhyming, sing-songy, tongue-twisting verse, filled with invented words and alliteration, does much to pleasure the ear:

crows caw grackle haw
we stand on the street and gawk
brave a core within
wind as rave ore wind as land
mind has savor mind has and

There is something of “Jabberwocky” in these poems; at one point, she even uses the word “galumphed,” and she invents hybrid words such as “gaudaciously.” Her poems move from resembling an unedited stream of consciousness—“a comment, a comma, a coma”—to sounding somewhat witty and contrived: “His eyes shined with hackers. I opened my codes.” Likewise, at times, the mistakes or eccentricities in her writing seem intentional; at other times, they seem arbitrary.

Many poems in the book garner their titles from the names of poetic forms spliced with months of the year, e.g. “Februallad” for February and Ballad. Several poems in this book are ekphrastic poems inspired by the Japanese photographer Kanako Sasaki whose photographs feature a lone young woman engaged in slightly subversive behavior. Throughout, Staples addresses themes such as sex, marriage, pregnancy, and miscarriage with the same jubilant wordplay. In “Margic,” a prose poem, she splices together the language of grammatical rules with the language of lust: “a come pound me subject me, a come pound me prettily, a come pound me sex instance, and a come pound me come sex me sex instance.” In “The Village,” a poem about miscarriage, she writes, “I feels sad tonight… I feels like I wishes I had the children / I had on the night I wasn’t sad.” Slurring her words in a way that sounds childish and places emphasis on the “s” sound, she addresses a sad and troubling occurrence with deliberately simplified sentiment.

There are three poems entitled “Prosaic” in Staples’s book. They all contain some prose, but they are hardly prosaic in the sense of commonplace or dull. In fact, these poems contain some of the steamiest content in the book. “I was winking that maybe we could heave an opine marriage…” If sex and relationships are ordinary and commonplace, then the way Staples makes them unordinary is through linguistic excesses and ever-multiplying play on words.

Rain Taxi Online Edition, Winter 2007/2008 | © Rain Taxi, Inc. 2007/2008