Simmons B. Buntin reviews Lit Windowpane, poems by Suzanne Frischkorn
“Forgive me. I can’t name the scarlet birds / that dart through the bramble,” begins one of the poems in Suzanne Frischkorn’s Lit Windowpane. But we don’t believe her. After reading the poems in the collection, we are convinced that Frischkorn can name the birds, the plants, the clouds, and the galaxies beyond:
Forgive the incantation of crickets among burrs—
Not only can she name them, but as Lit Windowpane proves, she can weave them into an intricate garden of words at once delicate and dangerous, elegant and enduring. Indeed, this poem, titled “A Friend Asks, What’s to Forgive?” ends:
and forgive the catmint,
for their tenacious grip on dry earth.
The result of the poet’s ability to name things is placing the reader inside the poem, especially through imagery. And Frischkorn’s imagery can be stunning:
Dusk rubs its thumb
Listen as the flute of leaves grows
(from “Freshwater Notecards”)
But not all of the poems are so airy. Just as often, they wrap around and within us like the tendrils of a flowery vine, becoming visceral, guttural even. Take these lines from the prose poem “Paean,” for example:
I believe I’m a pagan after discarding my garden gloves and plunging my hands in anthracite, rich, loamy soil.
I believe lacquer is a coat of lies, no one touches me like you do and when your hand is deep inside me you can feel earth itself.
Regardless of the elemental source—Lit Windowpane is full of earth and air and water—each poem settles over us like a fine dew—not suffocating, but synaptic and oddly comforting.
Yet as we revisit the poems, we come to realize that much of their allure lies also in how they converse with each other and the larger body of poetry. Some are direct responses: “The Mermaid Takes Issue with the Fable,” Frischkorn notes, was written in response to Pablo Neruda’s “The Fable of the Mermaid and the Drunks.”
But many respond based simply on their placement next to other poems. The first dozen or so work almost as diptychs, the poem on the left triggering the poem on the right, or vice versa. Often the poems’ titles clue the relationship—“Youth Drowns in Housatonic River” flows across from “Naugatuck River Valley, Connecticut” while “Watermark” counters “Freshwater Notecards”—but in each case the verse truly completes the connection.
“I am the river and the river / is contaminated,” Frischkorn writes in “Youth Drowns…,” while “Naugatuck River Valley….” begins “How long it takes the river to come clean.”
The approach is subtle yet playful, and sets the tone for the parallels of light and dark found throughout the book, parallels reflected in the book’s title as well as the window and windowpane references throughout.
Many of the book’s 45 poems are brief, reminiscent of Eastern Asian poetry. For example:
I find myself absolutely smitten by these shorter poems. Their images, mysterious beckoning, and sometimes wispy lines stay with us long after reading. Another splendid example:
The poems also converse directly with the reader. “Samhain,” for instance, begins, “And did you think you would live forever?” while “I came in the tavern totally naked, that’s true,” is the first line of “The Mermaid Takes Issue with the Fable.”
These are conversations that, like the imagery, invite and place us deep within the poem. We are not certain whether we seed the poem, or the poem seeds us—either way, it is an alluring enigma.
Suzanne Frischkorn’s Lit Windowpane is as charming, inviting, and mysterious as a secret garden. Beyond the open gate we find that each poem calls like a favorite flower. We find ourselves returning to admire them often—and like the poems, we bloom.
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