Monday, November 29, 2004

NEW! Review of Kerri Sonnenberg

The Mudra by Kerri Sonnenberg. Litmus Press, $12.

Reviewed by Lyndsey Cohen

Kerri Sonnenberg’s first book, The Mudra, uses the symbolic gesture of the hand to invite the reader into a world hinged not only on the self, but also on worlds and words that can collide at any moment. The book focuses on love, war, time, and history. Such topics can be risky, but Sonnenberg explores these themes with simplicity and grace. The Mudra is divided into three sections, which propel it from a fragmented form to a more narrative form. The book becomes increasingly coherent towards the end, but instead of leaving the reader with any answers, Sonnenberg leaves the reader immersed in a world where “there is ante through adjusts.”

The book’s first section, “The Mudra,” is composed of untitled lyrical fragments in which Sonnenberg places the reader in a world “be side reasoning where we just repeat admittance.” It is in this world the reader encounters an “opposition between ‘natural kinds,’” where time seems to be at a standstill. These fragments are short, but the sparseness of the language works well and forces every word to carry weight. Because the sections in this book build on one another, the first section is perhaps the least complex. But “The Mudra” allows Sonnenberg to prepare her audience for what is to come, and she suggests that the “closer you draw the more generous words become.”

“Wake,” the second and shortest section, depicts a world that is not at war and not at peace, as the opening epigraph indicates. Unlike the first section where time is not active, here the poems balance between two different times. Sonnenberg presents a time where “meeting love” is possible and a time where “three-thirty shots fired the / a.m.” Although there is more of a narrative feel to this section, it is masked by Sonnenberg’s syntax. This is a world where “word is not afraid,” but everything else “reaches / search”.

Sonnenberg fuses reflection and contemplation with the notions of love, war, and time in the third and final section, “deact.” Here time reflects a changed world where “wars had ploughed,” but also a hopeful world:
in summer
how the wild
jerked flat
under shade
his knees
her coverlet
the tree
were entire.

It is in this section that the progression of time, from being immobile in the first section to having passed in this section, becomes apparent. The gorgeous and vivid language in the final section contains moments of quiet examination that are perhaps the most memorable in the book:
the light
a cup
and racquet
handed silence
a tangle
of herself.

Sonnenberg’s constant reference to words and language is more apparent here than anywhere else in the book. In “Wake” the repeated image of the house seems to stand as something unchanging in a time where history “had lost her place.” Sonnenberg leaves her audience in a heartbreaking but beautiful world where absence and uncertainty rule:
houses drop from embrace
or dwellers were made
shelter alone

was all they spoke
turned fields without
color was night before roads

With its memorable and energizing language, The Mudra is a book that can be easily read and reread yet still maintain its freshness.

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