Friday, January 11, 2019

Catherine Owen's Dear Ghost,

Catherine Owen’s previous poetry collections have stuck pretty closely to an all-encompassing thematic: life in the fast lane of a metal band; grief over, and elegies to, a dead lover (twice); studies of other artists (Egon Schiele and Robinson Jeffers). In her latest collection, Dear Ghost,, the focus is on herself (though there’s also an extended section on others), including artistic excitement during childhood and work experiences in the present. Unlike many other poets who rework the same source material until every mundane detail, post-wringer, is rank and dry, Owen has had a varied and interesting life that can withstand (with caveats) the frequent dead-ends and narcissistic concentration that overwhelms lesser efforts in the autobiographical mode.

This is Owen’s best volume. Always bold and engaging, she shows a deeper vulnerability here that works lyrically to hold the emotion while also, paradoxically, setting it free. The excellent “Against Billy Collins’ Refusal to Read Poems called ‘My Grandfather’s Binoculars’ ” ends, after a curious exploration giving the lie to Collins’ typically facile and jokey remonstrance, with, “the small ships drift by and I want to mark their names,/to enter their fierce ceremony of water for awhile.”

The same problems apparent in her earlier work also surface in Dear Ghost, , though their evidence is more scant. Questionable (or outright wrong) word choices intrude. Thoroughbred horses aren’t “shot” when they break down, which softens much of the sting and (otherwise) complex rage of “Just the Way Things Are (He Said)”. And, with “The Window Washer”, I have a hard time with the verb wherein a wind “bashes him into his bucket”. These are faults of overwriting, or, more particularly, raising the stakes for a falsely heightened dramatic effect.

Owen publishes too much (volumes, and poems within volumes), but her best poems, and there are many here (“When I Love Film the Most”, “Residual Lingerie”, “The Dildo Craftsman”, “Swallows’ Nests of Isla de Janitzio, Michoacan”, “The Combination”), dominate the more negligible efforts with their intense lyricism and sharp observational capture.

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