This dual chapbook, featuring the work of two poets in a flip edition, surprised me. This is the first book of publisher Indigo Ink and they’ve created a wonderful publication by bringing together two poets with distinct voices that complement each other. Both are women, but their conceptions of womanhood are not the same and the focus of each one’s chapbook is fundamentally different.
Paper Covers Rock by Chella Courington is reflective. Courington’s images and associations are often subtle. We are invited into both a sensual feeling of boundaries and a blurring of them, especially regarding the influence of family members. The poems focus on a woman’s relationship with her body, from youth to middle age. In her third poem “Thirteen,” the first stanza pulled me right in:
Anna Claire and I never like tall grass
afraid we’ll step on a cottonmouth.
But the color of indigo
waits for us the other side of danger.
In another poem, parents fight only to later ironically chastise their daughter with “Will you ever learn to behave?” The title poems turns the rock into a marvelous metaphor for relationship while the paper remains literal. At the end of the collection, Courington shows us the frailty of old age and the beginnings of it in middle age. In what is probably my favorite poem in the collection, she reflects on Georgia O’Keefe after her initial negative response to the desert southwest. From “Forty”:
Stieglitz dies. She escapes to open plains
cloud vistas where nothing presses
no camera traps no skyscraper blocks
her stretching into whiteness–
bone on red hills.
Triplicity by Kristen McHenry provides an altogether different voice and perspective. Her poems are about relationship with roles and with the world. In the book’s first poem “Nature Conservancy, Spring,” she explores the archetype of the nurturing woman and then abruptly turns to embrace her own individuality with this delightful and hair-raising stanza:
Thank God then, for the Cactus Room,
where I felt
secretly the most at home. Squat,
vicious bastards: alien, self-contained,
unloved. Oh, to survive
thirty-seven years on just a particle of dew!
To need exactly nothing. To sprout
weapons from your own fibrous flesh.
To bloody those
who hover in to feed you.
This is not the only poem dealing with embracing what at first (or repeatedly) seems alien. Many of these poems deal with transformation with “Bartlett pears and teacups / escaping their architecture” (in one poem). They are also deeply honest, eschewing shame and showing no shyness toward self-confrontation or the visceral side of life.
Both of these poets have wonderful timing with humor. Their voices are completely different as are their outlooks on life. This may partly come from approaching poetry from different avenues. Courington is an academic while McHenry got a degree in theater and works in the non-profit world. Whatever the source of their differences, they both provide treats for readers. I would be happy to read more from either of them.