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The Paragon
ISBN: 1-93233-962-0
By Kathrine Varnes
Review by: Moira Richards

January 2009

Kathrine Varnes entranced me with her use of form in her book, The Paragon - right from the first pages with their compelling terza rimas,

At twenty years, I bought a microphone
to lift my voice into the smoky bars:
I kept the customers from going home

and eased their drinking. Their lungs took in tar;
their blood took up the song of alcohol,
but when I saw them stumbling to their cars,

my ears rang with a temperate music. Dull
to whistled catcalls and slurred compliments,
I ferried out equipment, locked it all

safe in the trunk. An apprentice siren's sense
for melody - and yet no notion of
the lure of rocks, the ocean's violence. (The Apprentice Siren - pgs 14 - 17)

which narrate a tale of love and adventure for seventeen plaited stanzas. And further on I discovered this villina which begins,

Why do we call them shades?
These ghosts that bump the heart
when it's memory that fades
out like a station that plays

jazz as I drive through the heart
land, the flattest part.
Why do we call them shades
when it's my voice upbraids,

my fear of the apple cart
upset. Don't blame the heart
when it's memory that fades.
My love would get good grades

for attentiveness…

(Winter Light: a Villina - pgs 19/20)

and I really relished Varnes' skilled and playful use of line break and enjambment in her work.

The last poem in The Paragon also demonstrates this poet's artistry with words. It is subtitled, 'Poems in conversation with Herbert Marcuse's Essay on Liberation' and it braids its conversation in alternating lines of the ten-part poem in such a way as to spark multiple meanings off the juxtaposed words. Here is a sample,

Containment as with Mason jars or
Form is the negation the mastery

Tupperware brings home
of disorder, violence, suffering;

pickled beets, canned peaches, summer ripening into fall
even when it presents disorder

when I open a drawer while looking for something else -
violence -

tearing through my silk scarves I see the ring box

and I look inside.
suffering -? (The Great Refusal - pgs 65 - 74)

Varnes' poetry is demonstration that form is not the cage of poetry but a trellis on which it can grow. Perhaps the most impressive feat in this book is the crown of almost four dozen sonnets - a series entitled, 'His Next Ex-wife' which narrates, through sonnet after sonnet, a telephone conversation between two women. I marvelled at the way in which the last line of every sonnet is taken to be the first line of the sonnet following, and yet is also transformed in its second usage so as to propel the conversation along. The Paragon is a book I'll be returning to often, to enjoy and admire the Kathrine Varnes' skill.


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