Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Review: How Long the Night Is

Christine DeSimone
Lummox Press, 2013
80 pp/55 poems
When Christine DeSimone writes about everyday life, it feels like she means it. There is nothing forced in her descriptions, whether they are bright or painful. We see this early on in her collection, How Long the Night Is, when the speaker ends a friendship in "The Penitent" as equally as we see it when a parent experiences a peaceful moment with his daughter in "Man Returns iPad Because He Missed Being Bored." The way DeSimone crystallizes these moments is, in fact, one of her strongest assets, and she does it again and again throughout her 55 poems.

The reason I am so drawn to that as a reader is because I see myself in these poems. "If I Was a Poet" brings to mind the hours I've spent on highways: seeing people others seem not to notice and finding myself intrigued by the things they do. "You take what you find, wherever it's found," a line from "Misplaced," speaks to the writing life. The final stanza of "Quitting Smoking" makes me think of being far from home:
     but perhaps it's like the redwoods
     you've visited: between the acres of dense,
     silent trees, there are sudden patches
     of emptiness, and maybe you are alone,
     but maybe someone is thinking of you
     as they exhale into the cold between the stars.

At the same time, DeSimone is able to slip into various personae and draw me into those voices, even if I find nothing of myself in them. "Letter from Zelda," an imagined missive from Mrs. Fitzgerald to F. Scott, is the strongest of the persona poems in this collection, thanks in part to its attention to detail. Similarly, when she steps into her mother's voice in "Mother Fills Out the Restraining Order," DeSimone sheds light on the reality of abuse in a way that official paperwork never can, as evidenced by the clinical, bureaucratic excerpts presented in the poem.

The best display of DeSimone's poetic prowess, however, is "Spellcheck Suggests the Following Replacements," in which she shifts from one subject to another effortlessly based on incorrect words alone. As writers, we of course know that there is nothing effortless about it, but the fact that the poet makes it feel thus speaks volumes about her abilities. This sense of ease can be found throughout the whole collection, which is worth the read both for phrases like "My telephone rings were wolfwhistles," in "Inheritance," and for poems that are at once personal and universal.

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