Kaya Oakes
Pavement Saw Press ($14)

by Katie Fowley

In her first book of poetry, Kaya Oakes details a transient and fervent existence, stemming from wayward road trips taken with her family as a child: “We were always breaking down. The intersection ought to have been called a landing place.” Oakes approaches childhood memories from an adult perspective and writes about inheriting smarts, Irish appearances, and a tendency to go blind, yet as much as she recounts sensory experiences and specific incidents, she revels in the non-fixity of experience and events. She writes, “I am repelled by fragmenting, / yet desire it so astutely, I might / cut off all my hair.” Likewise, Oakes’s poems fluctuate between narrative sense and a lust for fragmentation. She moves from enjambed to unenjambed lines, from run-on sentences to short matter-of-fact statements, from clear, descriptive phrases to open, disruptive ones.

Age is one of Oakes's preoccupations, and she writes about childhood, adolescence, and “this not young, / not yet frigid age,” exploring how we work through expectations and disappointment. Take, for example, this stanza about attitudes towards youth:

Naïveté of being young:
I used to label it as something
to be grown out of, a little piece
of today’s misery to irrigate tomorrow.

Invoking age-related concerns that will resonate with many—fear of lost promise, dissatisfaction with work—her poems include descriptions of fighting with a lover about nothing, living in a “boring city” full of “stupid objects,” drinking, and making manifesto. Discontent gives them a certain restless energy. Oakes comes across as someone who has had a lot of experiences, and in a tone bordering on jaded she dispels illusions about writing, communication, relationships, and work. About work, she writes: “Work was a room with just one window, / and every few years, the window moved, so that the view / while still the same, was slightly altered.” But even in her most cynical-sounding poems, she expresses a drive to keep writing and to keep living “in spite of life.”

Sex is another nexus of these poems—“she wants to be in it, his isosceles triangle. Each / corner to own her, banging hard on the edge.” In “Always Coming Second,” Oakes describes all the relationships she’s had with guys in bands, numbering and inventorying them. About “the third,” she writes, “He wasn’t the brightest thing, lost in classes / where polysyllabics flitted around / but after I read him Kubla Khan one night / he made a song that kept me awake until college.” Oakes does not look back on herself as your typical, vulnerable groupie—“Hadn’t I put them second too?”—and she relates her actions without regret or remorse. This poem is perhaps the best example of Oakes’s ability to collect experiences, plunge into relationships, and celebrate what is vibrant and temporary.

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