Friday, October 27, 2017

math for couples - Adele Graf (Guernica Editions)

Today's book of poetry:
math for couples.  Adele Graf.  Essential Poets Series 242.  Guernica Editions. Toronto - Buffalo - London (U.K.).  2017.

math for couples

Adele Graf's math for couples reads a bit like you've stumbled into another family's old photo albums.  The poems are snapshots of important and intimate moments of family history along with those that capture an unexpected moment of languor or amusement.

Regardless of the subject Graf has an uncanny ability to straddle the lines between whimsy and frivolity, panic and well paced poise.  Over the course of math for couples we experience poems from the perspective of a child, a young girl, a young woman, a mature woman and a grandmother, I think.  The story changes, characters come and go but Adele Graf's voice remains a constant pleasure.

my mother played Chopin while lamb stewed

what a sumptuous scene, you must think --
you hear Chopin's waltz skim piano keys
smell herbed lamb broth that steeps leeks and carrots
sense chords and aroma fuse in the hall
between hushed rooms and the warm kitchen stove
see my mother rapt in melody
even beaming at our upturned faces
as they catch the light

my mother managed Chopin's waltzes
straight-backed, fingernails clicking each key
plunking phrases she labelled romantic
thought she'd long lost her ardour --
and the lamb stew?
carrots soaked slack, gristly, bland broth
burning off in an acrid puff--
another dry meat in our cold tiled kitchen

but in her way, my mother did slip inside her music
and before we'd heard Ashkenazy play Chopin
we liked her playing, so why would we doubt
she was high-brow, as she called herself
back when we still thought her hours
enthroned at the piano explained
the lack of fragrant family meals --
my mother, queen of appearances.

...

The Today's book of poetry offices just have not been the same since our darling Max went walkabout.  Funnily enough it almost coincided with Odin leaving the nest for greener valleys.

Thankfully Kathryn, our Jr. Editor, and Milo, our Head Technical Officer (and boy, oh boy, does he ever like his new title) are both signed to long term contracts.  Kathryn led the charge this morning with a spirited reading of Graf's poetry.

math for couples is home to some dry wit and some ghosts.  We've had a few old ghosts blow through our offices recently.  It is unsettling at the least.  It can be alarming and strangely comforting at the same time.  Maybe they think we still need them.  Adele Graf seems to have come to terms with her ghosts even if she lets them run around in her poems.

jam

you get just one
piece of toast to spread it on --
still, you try to take as much
jam as you can

you do your best
to grab your slice from
the middle of the loaf
but whatever size slice you get
-- even if you're stuck
with the puny heel --
here's the decision you face

should you spread all
your jam over the whole slice
so each bite has the same
flavour and sweetness?

or use just enough
so each bite leaves
a slight jam taste
then pile what's left
on your very last bite
-- rich and thick and sweet --
since the last is the one
you'll remember?

...

Adele Graf writes some poems that feel like conversations you've already had, they have deja vu written all over them.  It must be the ghosts.  Regardless, Today's book of poetry felt a warm and fuzzy attraction to math for couples.

This is Graf's first kick at the can and out of the gate she's writing strong, vivid poems.  Today's book of poetry has to be convinced her next book with kick serious ass.

hot flesh

you touch me &
my flesh heats up --
flashes of pleasure
zap my brain
surge through
my core --
menopause meets seasoned sex

you tinker till
my circuits cool
buzz & hum
while we recharge --
our ebbing flesh
overhauled in
doze with dual snores

I rise & grope
for bifocals
then brew sweet tea --
samples from the health food store
where I buy herbs
to stave off ills
middle aged women are prone to

...

Today's book of poetry applauds the candor of Graf.  Her honesty is right at her fingertips, all the time.

Winter is coming.  I can feel it in my bones.  The only defense might be poetry.  Poetry that will fill our stomachs and warm our hearts.  Adele Graf's math for couples is a good step in that direction.


Adele Graf
Adele Graf
Photo: Ed Overstreet

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Adele Graf grew up outside New York City and immigrated to Canada in 1968. math for couples is her first book of poetry, though more than half these poems have been published in Canadian journals including The Antigonish Review, CV2, The Dalhousie Review, Room and Vallum. She lives in Ottawa.

BLURBS
Adele Graf’s poems explore the inner worlds of family, including grandmother, father, mother, husband, childhood self and aging self with an openness and honesty that is stunning, using her pen as both scalpel and microscope. A master of slant rhyme, she is also unafraid to experiment in the far reaches of poetics; and you’ll never think of popcorn in the same way again.
     - Mark Frutkin

Whether she’s revisiting fraught scenes from her past with wry humour or facing them down deadpan, Adele Graf infuses whatever she touches—bric-a-brac, childhood haunts, or stricken relatives—with a vividness that places them stage-centre. Charting a memorable path through several generations of family upheaval and continuance, she evokes her grandmother’s New Jersey milliner shop, her father’s tragic early death, and her own journey to late-life plenitude with a sharp eye for the waystations that lead from disillusionment to delight.
     - Peter Richardson

math for couples is a warm and playful debut collection. You can feel the pleasure Adele Graf takes in the words she juggles and the forms she explores in this very intimate adventure.
     - Stuart Ross, author of A Sparrow Came Down Resplendent


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DISCLAIMERS

Poems cited here are assumed to be under copyright by the poet and/or publisher.  They are shown here for publicity and review purposes.  For any other kind of re-use of these poems, please contact the listed publishers for permission.


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