Friday, March 7, 2014

What’s a poem?: What’s a review? of Kristy Bowen’s “the shared properties of water and stars,” by Stacia M. Fleegal

Get the shared properties of water and stars
Sometimes the stigma is that small and pretty = intellectually lightweight. But Kristy Bowen has written a small and pretty book of prose poems that is, in actuality, going to completely rock your safe little genre-loving world.

Bowen found the perfect home for the shared properties of water and stars at Noctuary Press:

“seeks to create a public space for women writers
… [who are not] simply challeng[ing] the notion of genre, but
… assessing both the artistic possibilities and the dangers inherent in maintaining genre categories.”

The girl with the blonde hair lives next door to the man who keeps rabbits. (p. 9)

Talk about genre-busting. This book is prose poem, short fiction in verse, fairy tale, myth, dystopian fiction, fable, folk tale –

Every shoebox marked open me? (p. 10)

— and that’s in the long poem that is the entire chapbook, and the individual, untitled prose poems that comprise it. See, narrative isn’t really the point here. There IS one, but

The story depends so much upon the hidden. (p. 32)

There are 3 houses in 3 different colors. (p. 9)

There are characters. There is a menagerie of animals —
The ghost in the blue house listens while he lists, alphabetically, each animal in the forest.    (p. 39)

— both wild and domestic, and each taking their fair share of the others’ traits:

… all domestic things gone feral and rabid at the mouth. (p. 41) 

But the cohesiveness of this book isn’t in chronology. It’s in the recurrence of certain people and images and the world in which they seem to be trapped.

Each owner keeps a certain kind of sadness locked in the cupboard. (p. 1)

Bowen’s magic is in her ability to make us connect to characters and settings she only flirts with fully sketching — gets close and then backs off and changes direction.

Her murmurs are slender, silky, like the backs of calves. (p. 11)

It’s a strange position to be in, as a reader. Are we voyeurs or kindreds to these creatures?

It must be lovely, she thinks, to be alone in the world and not. (p. 30)

And can we trust this narrator?

Rabbit said: Yesterday I was lying and two days after tomorrow I will be lying again. (p. 31)

And does it matter, when the writing is this simultaneously dreamy and crisp, as contained as the chaos it contains?

The reveal. The cloaked movement under dark of night. (p. 32)

The remainder was a beautiful ruin, subject to sinking and storms. (p. 26)

If one box holds a nest of lace and another box holds a canary, at what point do they converge? (p. 20)

Does it matter if we know exactly why something is an incredible poem?


  1. I have maxed out my "Book Budget" for now, but this is going on my "Must Buy and Read" list. I love the snippets I've read so far. I also really enjoy chap books written as poetry.

  2. Stacia, I like to read work written in different styles. I was talking to my daughter yesterday about how sometimes I am hoping a piece will be written differently, and it is written in the same old format. I like how you wrote this piece, I am going to remember it to help me to write differently, and it definitely made me want to purchase it. Catherine