In Spectator by Kara Candito (The University of Utah Press, 2014), the poet’s second collection, Candito proves herself once again to be a surprising and sage voice, offering poems of candor and urgency.
The poems are emotionally intense, too—often funny, sometimes biting, and sometimes very sad. Mostly, though, I found them philosophically complicated, thick with insights.
This is not to say that they aren’t also sexually charged—and that’s exactly how I like my philosophy. This is true right from the start, with “Initiation #5: Lorca.” Candito writes about a vision of Lorca at her bed, and she notes, strangely, that “Burning casinos and countries I’ll never visit / pass over the room.” That’s a realistic dreamscape for me—weird as hell, disparate things (Lorca, casinos) enjambed and entwined.
Later in the poem, this:
Inside, in another dimension, we are riding
two lame mares to the pasture where I am
ravaged by centaur after centaur, never a satyr.
Bodies matter, how they break open,
which animals we let inside us. I am here
to learn how to suffer more beautifully, ….
Despite the problematic idea of a woman being ravaged as a beautiful form of suffering, Candito goes there, and it’s again in keeping with dreams, which don’t know the rules, or which ignore them. She dares. She shocks. And frankly, this old editorial war-horse has read a lot of poems, and doesn’t generally shock.
The second poem in the book, “A Short Genealogy of Power Tools,” also allows a bald look at a particular consciousness, as it outlines so many manners of suffering a teen knows. I like that it picks up on aspects of that first poem, where bodies break open, as if the progression of poems is a game of crack-the-whip:
There was this shed behind the prefab house
where I straddled a boy named Boomer
on his father’s John Deere. Into the shaved back
of his head, I dug my nails to pretend they were
power tools; my hands blasting
his body open, so I could crawl inside and make it mine.
In many ways, the body is pinned to a dissection tray in this collection, and it’s a painful examination that the poet doesn’t shy from.
In my favorite poem in the book, “Deathbed,” the poet is straightforward about what it means to write—a topic of enduring interest to me, as my blog reveals—and as a bonus, she is also very funny (I guess most people would say darkly so, but that’s the only stuff that’s really very funny to me).
The poem is about the speaker/poet’s own deathbed. “If you think it’s just another lurid metaphor, / then I applaud your worldliness,” she begins, and notes,
[…] I grew ugly. I encountered
metaphors at night, slumping in my chair
like a Chilean dictator renouncing all former ties
to frivolous displays of power. Have you
ever been embarrassed by a metaphor?
It is embarrassing to write. This is why I wear an expression
of crude conviction, the one that made my mother say:
Stop making squinty faces. You’ll get wrinkles.
Notice how Candito lets herself be ugly—squinty, embarrassed, crude? It’s good to spend time with someone like that—not putting on airs, and willing to say the embarrassing thing in the purpose of making meaning.