Your House Is Floating: Poems by Susan Whitmore
Liquid Light Press, 2013; 50 pages
Reviewed by Maryfrances Wagner
Maryfrances Wagner is a poet and co-editor of The I-70 Review. She’s also taught creative and academic writing at every level from Poets in the Schools programs to graduate classes. Also, she served as co-editor with her husband Greg Field of New Letters Review of Books and as co-president of The Writers Place in Kansas City where she remains active with programming and sponsors many readings for local and national writers. She has written five books of poetry and edited three. Her poetry books include Salvatore’s Daughter (BookMark Press), Red Silk (Mid-America Press),winner of the Thorpe Menn Book Award, and Light Subtracts Itself (Mid-America Press). Her poems have appeared in many literary magazines, anthologies, and textbooks including Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry (Penguin Books) and The Dream Book, An Anthology of Writings by Italian American Women (winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation). She lives in Kansas City with her husband, two dogs—Emily Dickinson Dog and Pablo Neruda Dog Boy—and thousands of books.
Susan Whitmore’s new book, Your House is Floating, could easily make its readers long for wet kisses or an island vacation to flaunt their stuff and feel the fire of life in this book of erotic pleasure and love’s many faces.
The opening two poems, “Cathedral” and “Ice” set the scene, the theme, and the flow for the rest of this bold book about taking risks, making love and seeking love in this collection of twenty-one poems.
In “Cathedral” Whitmore says, “My body sheathed in its fine envelope—/The whole package as white as the tablecloth.” The person she addresses thinks the cathedral is her home, but she says, “My body is nothing in there,/A piece of heat fallen from the candle,” but “the Virgin goes on with her entreaties:/Give it up my sweet. Throw the doors wide.” And Whitmore does throw the doors wide open in this chapbook, page after page.
In “Ice,” she says, “Black ice and the brakes don’t matter.” The poem is all about taking the risk of letting another know her feelings: “I spoke my crush on you. The skid is on.” Thus, the reader is launched into this chapbook of enticing and often erotic poems. She has the courage to say what many only think—if they even listen to what’s beneath their heartbeat.
In “Tent,” she says, “My belly was heavy and jittery with possibility:/Blood yet to come and red wine not yet drunk/In the la la land of adult love.” Only one poem later in “Forsythia,” she says:
I’m still surprised by any wet,
Luscious thing—the flavor of dew,
Sweet spit on a tongue pointed firmly
Toward the body’s craving.
In “Fluid,” she asks, “What course does blood have but hope?/ Love threads its way into every sweet organ—“ and “The electric spine now informing/The whole skeleton’s elegant bones.” In “Sunset,” she puts us into her thoughts while she’s driving down Highway 435 into Kansas City. She thinks about the country people around her but when she thinks of the man “who proffers oats” and “feels horse body come to rest,” while “the woman who wed the man rests her brow” against a cow she’s milking,” Whitmore is “among the crazies” going as fast as she can without risking a car wreck or a ticket.
What really adds to this collection is the technical skill and talent of Whitmore. Poem after poem shows well wrought craft and precision. In “Boat,” she says:
. . . Here I am in the boat that keeps
Sinking, this boat I keep patching with hope
And prayer. One would think despair a good teacher—
But no, I only come to love the boat more each time
It sinks under the weight of feeling. And no,
It’s not love but that sickness, an attachment
To too much sugar or salt: One makes me fat,
The other, too thin. Obesity and emaciation.
So no, it’s not love, but a boat sickness.
The poems are lean, the language is fresh, and the metaphors startle. In “Dreck and Music,” she says, “A thermometer’s mercury running loose in the sink/And freed of fever, an asbestos cloud released/After years from its wallpaper layers,/A door swung open evermore.”
As erotic as many of these poems feel, they also portray the struggles love involves while trying to find the right fit through all of the ill attempts. Whitmore captures how matters of love have their opposite. In “Tower,” she says, “Surely anger has its own love and bedfellow./Why else would you climb the winding stair/Again and again” and “Rage has its way.” In “Lock” she says, “Tonight love shares itself with hate/. . . . The sheets cold and angry with sweat/And fear, the need to push despondency out.”
Whitmore takes the reader on a journey, sometimes mythical, sometimes literal, sometimes through the soul’s interior. In “Stone,” she says:
I’ll admit it. There are times when
I want the one I love to lift me
Like a child from the stone, put the puzzle
Of my guts together and name me whole.
The one I love will love me broken:
I will not wake up one day suddenly one piece,
Having run together like mercury.
Through these twenty-one poems, Whitmore allows the readers to see her vulnerabilities and fears, and sometimes she makes readers a little uncomfortable, perhaps because she is so honest, but possibly because the poems make them think about their own interiors.
Does Whitmore’s juxtapositioning of images such as love and guts, patching and hope, obesity and emaciation intensify your response to her poems, confuse your interpretation, or . . .? Talk to us!