October 20, 2020

SARAH VENART: I AM THE BIG HEART


I'm thrilled to find Sarah Venart's fine new book, I AM THE BIG HEART, in the mailbox. I walk back to the house so absorbed in it I forget to check the pines that line the lane for the owl that sometimes waits there, watching.

Thrilled because it was fourteen years in the making, Sarah says, at times with much uncertainty over whether it would get made at all. Thrilled because I got to watch some of the poems taking shape (see Sarah's revision worksheets for four poems, from draft to publication, here).

The cover is unsettling and beautiful, and the book is thicker than I'd imagined - partly that luxurious paper all Brick's books are printed on, partly the hospitable distillation of a whole lot of thoughtful and passionate and sometimes resistant living.

Hospitality, especially when it feels like invitation, is one of the best things to find in a poem. When the poem goes "here's what this is like for me; how is it for you?" I feel a little more alive. Sarah's poems do this over and over.

       In earth years, my heart is ridiculously young.
       It blinks closed, it glistens open to herd the blood.
               ("Darling Citizen")

They risk and play and dare me to go in close.

       When she loved me, she got on with it
       in silence: she punched down the bread and salvaged
       the cold oatmeal on the stove.
 
       It wasn't what I asked for.
               ("Dénouement) 

They're not afraid - or, when they are, they face it.

       At night I close my eyes and let my thoughts
       become my feelings, let my feelings point their corners
 
       into dark corners
               ("Origami")

They're faceted: tender, comedic, unflinching, bare. Some hold injury and manipulation up to the light for scrutiny (The Widening; How It Worked; Stun Guns). Some hold their own trembling, their own joy (Dénouement; Lambing Season), grief and love. 

       To go rogue, stop holding onto
       what hurts, indulge in this minute, make
       room for what's good.
               ("The Midwife Advises Me")
 
Poems and fragments found in her poet-mother's journals are folded in; family life and the individual life in all their bewildering complexity are folded in. 
 
And the poems are masterful constructions of pattern and variation, sometimes gathered in formation, sometimes roaming the page
 
       ...flowing
       from domestic into feral

       just like that.
               ("The Chauffeur")

I look up: it's late afternoon. The owl is calling. 


6 comments:

  1. This sounds wonderful. And what a stunning cover!

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    1. That's Janet Werner's beautiful painting, "Carey" and the design is by the talented Marijke Friesen at Brick. I love it too!

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  2. LOVE that the revisions link is here and find it so interesting....how do you know when the poem is finished - ready to fly?

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    1. That's a great question! Maybe Sarah will speak to that

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    2. For me, a poem is finished when I feel that sense that everything is as precise as I can make it because the more precise I make a poem, the more mystery the reader gets? I think? Does that sound about right for you too?

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