Reviewed by Kate Seferian
Camille Guthrie jumpstarts her second book, In Captivity, with intrigue and exhilaration: her opening poem, “The Start of the Hunt,” spreads over nine pages and sets a suspenseful tone and level of intensity that enable the book to forge ahead and captivate the reader. Guthrie alternates between the contemplative and narrative voice and offers the reader a multitude of speakers--the lover, the prey, the predator, the quiet observer. The motif of the hunt pervades the book, whether appearing blatantly and literally, as in the opening poem when Guthrie writes a list of “What To Bring on a Hunt,” or emerging as the slight shadow behind the poet’s words as she secretly “first saw you / pearled primed bearded beading” in “At the Fountain.” Guthrie manipulates this motif, a theme normally expressed through visual art, to fit language rather than imagery. Most noted for its role as muse for painters and Greek mythology, hunting embodies a strong blend of impassioned emotions rooted in both the senses and the intellect. Historically, hunting hints at aristocracy as well as a social event that calls for rituals in certain cultures, and Guthrie includes all of these facets of the “traditional” hunt in her poems.
Guthrie includes only eleven poems in this collection, but she splits several of the poems over a series of pages, thus allowing the reader an unobstructed path to comprehension and absorption; the creation of sections offers a smooth transition from one page to the next and evades the weight and confusion often engendered in more compact, concentrated poetry. Despite the segmented structure of poems, Guthrie still manages to string the theme of the hunt from beginning to end and enthrall the reader with details of life’s literal and figurative pursuits. She describes herself in the collection’s first lines:
Nevertheless, like a blank piece of paper
I drifted along past buildings . . .
Withdrawing into cloudy heights
I walked up aimless blocks each day
Discord knocking about in my head
Sick with fear that had no form
Captured by my debt to pay
Wanting to make something of myself
Wanting knowledge & intimacy . . .
In the following sections, Guthrie erupts with the suspense, violence, and passion born from the chase--“this is the starting point because I look for danger / everywhere putting out feelers”--and later violence bursts to the forefront: “Scent hounds slip from the shore / Rashness, Desire, Anxiety, Fear & Grief / could ambush us you know / their snouts disappear into wild grasses . . . Cacophony rings like unstoppable capital / its edges echo into the trees / Such riches there / to rot have run.”
Guthrie experiments with structural segmentation in “My Boyfriend.” In a note at the back of the book explaining the source of inspiration for some of the poems, she explains that this poem was modeled after a list in Rabelais’s Gargantua and Pantagruel. Guthrie breaks down the boyfriend into three parts--his exterior, his interior, and his actions--and the poem is formed from these three sections. Guthrie mixes the earthly, natural, historical, and abstract to build the boyfriend’s character: “a back like chalked sidewalk,” “fingers like sparklers,” “elbows like antidotes,” “a skull like a geode,” “throat like a bold headline,” “bowels like surrealism,” “veins like Japanese characters.”
Guthrie concludes the book with the same segmented format of the beginning, and the final poem, “In Captivity,” while laced with the grief and anxiety of personal, psychological confinement along with more macrocosmic burdens, closes with optimism and anticipation for something greater: “Captured by your debt to pay / You are the genius of this shore / And will be truthful to your words / To all who listen from here on.” Guthrie spends much of the collection reflecting upon her own personal hunts or those that exist around her, but in the final poem she addresses “you,” potentially the reader, and finishes with insight directed toward the audience. In meshing the more intangible, philosophical illusions and aspects of the hunt with the physical and personal, Guthrie achieves flexibility with a topic that could be dangerously limited.