Poetry Review: Palace of Contemplating Departures by Brynn Saito

My review of Brynn Saito’s The Palace of Contemplating Departure (Red Hen Press, 2013) ran in today’s Shelf Awareness for Readers (dedicated poetry issue; it is, after all, Poetry Month).

I loved this collection.  Saito is wonderful with imagery and lets her persona narrators follow her associative leaps for vivid, surprising and emotionally heightened effect.  It takes a a talented writer to range so widely across the emotional landscape and comment on the cultural, political and personal simultaneously.  I think Saito is very talented, as her Benjamin Saltman award and this collection makes clear.

From the review:

Saito’s startlingly juxtaposed images reveal the layered complexity of her material. In the six-poem sequence “Women and Children,” she writes: “My children as they wandered from me took on the shapes of beauty. I was proud of the way they suffered though I know they were undone by the sharpness of the earth’s asking: Do you know… the color of grief?” This technique allows her to explore difficult emotional truths without collapsing into them: “The color of grief is the bright amber of wasted honey.”

At her best, Saito’s associative lyricism recalls Laura Kasischke’s enigmatic and powerful Space, in Chains while keeping the same tight control over her imagery and personas. Some of the poems feel confessional but Saito is after something deeper. “And the Lord said Surprise Me so I moved to LA,” she writes in an early poem that quickly becomes a commentary on America itself:

“I drove through the South
with its womb-like weather…
and the century unspooled
like a wide, white road with lines for new writing
and the century unspooled like a spider’s insides.
The country was a cipher so I voted with my conscience.”

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