Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Review: Proof

Karina Borowicz
Codhill Press, 2014

When I was in elementary school, my grandfather had a house in Kentucky coal country. We went to visit him for a family trip once, and he woke me in the middle of the night to watch a coal train roll past, not a hundred yards from the back porch. When I read “Passage” in Karina Borowicz’s latest poetry collection, Proof, I felt as though I had been catapulted back to that night:
            […] the crushing machinery
            of distance rolls close

            and is gone with urgency
            an echo trapped
            in the stripped branches […].
And this is not a new sensation for me. Borowicz’s work has the distinction of being able to transport me--and, I suspect, other readers--not only through my own life and experiences, but through hers, as well.

This is, I suspect, thanks to her effortless way of channeling American poets of the past. Whether it’s echoes of Whitman in the way she touches on many different subjects (history, literature, astronomy, biology), dialogues with Emily Dickinson’s ghost in “Emily’s Dress,” or riffs on Robert Frost in “Saw,” Borowicz gracefully reaches back into our shared poetic archives. Yet she remains her own poet, driven by something unseen: “The invisible is calling,” she writes in “The Invisible,” and this invisible thing is, no doubt, her literary genius.

Like Whitman before her, Borowicz is not afraid to reach into her own archives for inspiration. In this case, she shares with the reader a few more of her “bee” poems, hearkening back to her prize-winning collection, The Bees Are Waiting. At the same time, she is in no way averse to moving forward, as the bird in the casually sinister lines “Each day, the woodpecker’s tapping / comes closer” from “Hunger.” Borowicz even admits she has a certain animal-like nature in “Paintbrush,” writing, “[…] I can’t help it my paintbrush / has claws and its fur keeps growing.” It is this primal feeling that pulses beneath her words.

We see this best when the contrast between Borowicz’s more controlled work and her breathless, stream-of-consciousness technique is played up. The side-by-side poems “Frozen Boot” and “Proof” display this well: in “Frozen Boot,” no punctuation trips readers up as we follow the speaker’s progress past a statue, while the measured lines of “Proof” give us a deliberately punctuated list of items left behind by a dead neighbor.

Near the end of Proof, Borowicz writes, “Have I told myself this story before?” Perhaps she has, and all the better for the reader: by the time we are lucky enough to read her lines, she has sharpened them to a gleaming point. As a result, when we encounter the declaration that St. Thérèse is “filled with rage,” we too want God to “show [us] how to make it holy.” Borowicz acts as the conduit here, giving us a glimpse into her world which is abundant with the holiness of well-wrought poetry.

“A Graven Image” provides the perfect example of this. “I want to cut the words in[to paper],” the speaker declares,
with a pin or a penknife,
            want them to be there yet
            not there, a violence apparent
            not to the eye but to wondering fingers.
After all, what could be more holy than providing solid, unmoving words for future generations of poets and readers? In this way, Borowicz earns her place in the pantheon.


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