Saturday, February 25, 2017

I Mean - Kate Colby (Ugly Duckling Presse)

Today's book of poetry:
I Mean.  Kate Colby.  Ugly Duckling Presse.  Brooklyn, New York.  2015.

I Mean

The title poem in Kate Colby's effervescent  I Mean is a stunning long list poem.  My favourite in quite a long while.  The poem "I Mean" comes in at a staggering 60+ pages and it never drags for a second.  If this poem were a train it would be on time at every station.

"I Mean" is one honking big and entertaining poem, a delight from start to finish.  A feast.  For dessert I Mean, the book, has four short essays that further serve Kate Colby's nefarious purposes. Colby wants us to know that she can create light.  "I Mean" not only illuminates, it takes some of the weight off of the world.

Today's book of poetry read Colby's essays and you should too, as Publishers Weekly said in their review, "The essays also display an erudition that can be both heady and playful."  But Today's book of poetry is going to concentrate on Colby's poem "I Mean".

from I Mean

I mean a black grid on a white field
and the fuzzy gray dots where the lines cross
that you can see but not look at

I mean "slippage"

I mean the slip-proof dots
on the baby socks

I mean things for which
names may or may not exist

I mean there are names
for what you are and for who

I mean names for things
that don't or no longer exist

I mean kicking bones
down the stairs
they're in my way

I mean in the desert

I mean everything is contained

I mean bound

I mean imminent

I mean right now

I mean immanence


Our kick at the can is that Colby is quite literally searching for the "what" in "what gives meaning?"
Today's book of poetry believes that naming a thing gives it meaning and Colby is naming it all.

It's hard to share the enthusiasm of a reading experience but Kate Colby's long list poem "I Mean" was fresh on every page.  Apparently Colby's curiosity is as broad as her optimism.

from I Mean

I mean I want my circumference
and to eat it too

I mean to be bigger than you

I mean contain more

I mean mean more

I mean with infinite density

I mean singularity

I mean aleph-infinity

I mean on the largest scale

I mean ontogeny, phylogeny, the camera
panning out from microbe to cosmos

I mean cochlear recapitulation of seashells

I mean fractals and vice-versa.
Seaweed. Galaxies.

I mean it's a long shot

I mean what I thought was the ocean
is only my body

I mean either a vase or two faces


Our morning read was a lovely tag-team type affair where we just went round and round the room, each person in turn whipping off a page of "I Mean,"  It wasn't a race or a marathon but we all felt celebratory at the end.

Reading "I Mean" reminded Today's book of poetry of a feast he was lucky enough to attend in his youth.  The first course of several was a magical steamed soup called Chawanmushi.  It was like a custard in that it was solid on your spoon - but when you put it on our tongue it melted leaving both a subtle flavour and a cleansed palette.  No easy trick.  Kate Colby can burn with the best.

from I Mean

I mean well-named horror can
be beautiful

I mean Wilfred Owen's poems
are neither horrific nor beautiful

I mean can beauty be named
or made but not both?

I mean a name turns to stone

I mean I'm totally making this up

I mean I don't know how to be a poet

I mean I'm a rebar Medusa

I mean cursed with endless construction

I mean with the dangers of addition

I mean maybe beauty can only be made
in the mirror

I mean mugging, kissy-faced,
pluckily marching in place
in the corner

I mean facing into the corner

I mean I've talked myself into

I mean thought myself


Today's book of poetry was reading Don McKay's great long poem "Long Sault" (1975) yesterday and was reminded how grand the long poem can be.  Today we are here to tell you that Kate Colby's I Mean is a modern epic poem.  You just don't know it yet.  Colby's narrative provides a kaleidoscope gaze onto your world and mine.

She never flinches.

Kate Colby
Kate Colby

Kate Colby is author of six books, including Unbecoming Behavior (UDP, 2008), The Return of the Native (UDP, 2011) and Fruitlands (Litmus Press), which won the Norma Farber First Book Award in 2007. She is a founding board member of the Gloucester Writers Center in Massachusetts and currently lives in Providence, where she was a 2012 fellow of the Rhode Island State Council for the Arts.

Kate Colby
 reading at Litmus Press Spring Book Party 6/10/11
Video: srk55krs


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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