Review of When Your Eyes Snow by Donna Kuhn. Kanona, NY: Foothills, 2004. $6.
Freezing the Rain
Donna Kuhn is a writer I seem to have overlooked. Her credits listed on the back of her chapbook, When Your Eyes Snow, are familiar--poethia, aught, sidereality, moria. But I have not noticed her writing till I saw this chapbook, number 24 in the Springfed Chapbook Series published in 2004 by Foothills Publishing in Kanona, New York.
I mention this because the poetry in this chapbook--no glossy cover, bluish-gray card stock, no photos, mostly text layout with slight artwork--sharply contrasts its unassuming, one-in-many appearance. Part of the high quality of this poetry comes from its knowledge of poetic styles at this time and its lively mixing of them. It is a hip combination of visual work, not pictures, the visual double-nature of words; exhilarating interconnective textual riffs brushing explicitness; with slang and temporal elements tossed in intimating fleeting therefore more certain lives, perhaps self-limiting but not obstructive.
no birds in toxic bones fly, i am tongues
cars, ghosts, perfume on a crisis
This collection is like a conceptual word that has the etymology of something visual like the flight of birds. It balances more than nature on the head of its pin, also all the distressing problems facing heads of state, not bogged down, strewing them abroad like a Christo artwork across the steppe, across the sands of defiance, repetitive but never the same, treading air, anointing death with the pure fragrant nard of the mountain.
I recently had an opportunity to gain insight into this title, observing one rainy day that the distant dismissive rain had turned into something unbeknownst. It had turned into snow. So ‘when your eyes snow’ seems to mean when what you see in your life that is objectionable to the point of causing tears turns into something different, something better. . .when the battering visual produces the lightly falling comforting verbal.
The title, also the title of a poem in the collection, doesn’t seem to refer to anything specific. It seems to refer to the idea that bumpy experience, not necessarily all negative but more or less without value in itself, is turned into poetry, a substance that presumably makes or brings sense. Snow has the characteristic of hiding the litter and the scars on the ground, making it smooth, pulling the scattered implements together to consistent, at-rest completion. In the case of Kuhn's work experience is not numerous or remote but simple, composed of a few common elements.
horses say horses are this
u hear eyedrops, horses are falling
nazi bird moon, it will fall apart
born down with a bird
my body blue
on a lawn of horses
The chapbook wisely contains sixteen poems. I don't know how much else its author is doing, but the impression these poems give is that she has bitten off just the right amount to chew. This is important because over anxiousness, grandiosity can scuttle a collection of poems with exertion, with noise, with blurred diction. Kuhn is aware of what her words mean. (‘Go sharpen some clouds’) Yet exuberance, loquaciousness is harmless if not admirable. Kuhn's poems have a perfectly gauged exuberance. They give the impression of loquaciousness.
The poems themselves are not simple but advanced, complex conceptually. I still have trouble with the pronoun 'she' supposedly concealing ‘I‘. It doesn't sound sincere. I believe it is on the right track. But to some extent Kuhn has replaced lexical grammars with logistical grammars. At the center of the collection is not a pronoun but symbolic objects, the moon, the birds, seahorse, the harmonica. The landscape becomes imaginary, free, innocent, mad, so that the moon is in the city, the seahorse in the watermelon patch, the birds play verbal hopscotch, harmonica plays child’s little songs, talking to dolls, talking to terrorists, talking to ‘winston‘.
winston, the planes hit a bird
i am open at the center for flat tires
bird terrorism. bird i am bird i am open.
a bird wasnt me in the heat.
We live fast; we like to trudge, not looking back, not supposed to look back. Kuhn, also a dancer, is dancing on the texture of reality, making memorable rainbow leaps that span the gaps of the unspeakable trudging. Sorrow isn't escaped; it is overcome. Eyes always snow, every day, every year, liberating the accumulated moments of winters.
when yr eyes snow shriveled stars
baby, they're a patio of suitcases
empty husband shakes
steak knives inside yr moon
blue stars dont know me
the red r.n.a. nowhere
t.v. horse whispering
don't know me
i see seaweed
i dream like pelicans dream
like gods nordic photocopies
stars weren't green, grandma
i wouldn't light the round moon
muffin moon, the falling bird
woman devours leaking clouds...
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