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Review by: Moira Richards
The poems in Moira Egan's poetry collection are gathered together in five sections, each of which sort-of correlates to one of the meanings of the wonderfully layered title word, Cleave. So, poems celebrating the narrators sexuality are collected under cleave as in passing through, whereas those about the narrators true love are placed with cleave as in to hold fast onto. The framework is all very cleverly thought out and I like most about this poet, her adroit way with words.
I read the book through and enjoyed the way that Egan in one poem transformed my least favorite household chore (ironing) into an erotic experience as the narrator describes her preparation of her best sheets (for a special occasion) to spread upon her bed after which, she says;
I start to hum
everything the Sirens might have sung.
A little further on I was caught up by another piece of eroticism where I'd least have thought to look. Here is a bit to tantalize about him, -
the man who plays the double bass,
.. he springs up
and brings her in, singing;
strong and long
he plucks the low C open
and every woman in the audience
loses her innocence.
(Double Bass Envy)
When I had read to the end of Cleave, I turned to the blurbs on the back cover to see what other readers had to say about the poems. I was amazed to see Michael Colliers mention of Egan's use of poetic form - her marvelous triplets, Sapphics, quatrains, sonnets, and sestinas. Hmmm ... I'd not noticed any use of form, had assumed all the poems to be free verse. Granted, I don't know much at all about form, dI'dn't know most of those that Collier mentioned, but I do know a sonnet and was sure I could not have missed seeing one of those. Back I went through the book, counting the lines of every poem that looked close to fourteen, and there they were, including the eight sonnet sequence entitled, Bad Dreams/ One-Night Sonnets that I had managed not to notice despite its title.
What a treat to reread those sonnets, now with an understanding of the form in which they were writ! The puck-like Moira Egan does not write her poems into poetic forms - she writes her poems to play with their form. And this flirtation of her poems with their form adds to the joy of reading her work.
Then I asked google what the requirements are for Sapphics and triplets, and went back to Cleave to learn from Moira, how to flout those requirements with panache. Last, I looked up sestina. Sestina! I remembered then that impossible form that I had wrestled with for a long time in my own writing, before admitting defeat. Back to the book to count thirty-nine liners and yes, there were Love & Death and Moving the Muse. The latter I had particularly enjoyed as a free form narrative piece, and I am now sooo very admiring of how the poet fit her poem so elegantly and with such wit, into this (for me) most confounding of poetic forms.
Moira Egan and her poems in Cleave have gone a long way to show me the delight of reading poetry written in form, and may perhaps even entice me to brave writing in it again.