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The following review will be published in SEAM magazine during the summer of 2004.
SEAM magazine is edited by Frank Dullaghan at 10 Collingwood Road, South Woodham Ferrers, Chelmsford Essex CM3 5YB. UK. Price £3. Overseas add £2.
Undone by Kim Bridgford, USD$16, David Robert Books, ISBN: 0-9717371-4-2
This is a collection of formal poems (mostly sonnets and villanelles). This is unusual these days and it took me a little while to get into it. However, Bridgford is a poet with quiet competence, an elegance and control that pushes her thoughts through the formal constraints of the lines so that you soon get caught up in the sheer intelligence and mastery of these poems. In "Sonnet for a Sick Child," she captures wonderfully the pressures of the situation -- 'he coughs. He coughs again ...' so that 'I dream/of sleep the way I used to dream of sex:/Romantic possibility.'
She is a master of slant rhyme and near rhyme. You often have to look closely at the poem to see the formal structure. Similarly, she has a way of startling an image out of the ordinary to force you to look again, to re-read the line, re-think your position -- 'The shadows of twilight like a lure/Of broken beauty' or the 'littering/Of lawns by petals, thick as fragrant snow' (both from 'Ash').
The poems of this collection deal with love and loss, but not in a sentimental way. These are poems from real life. They teach you how to bear what life throws at you. Some of the poems, like 'In the Woods,' draws you back again and again, the formal shape (a pantoum) of the poem itself echoing the estrangement and sorrow of its subject matter. The cost of the book would be worth it for this poem alone. But there are even better treasures between its covers. There are three masterful sonnet sequences -- 'The Argument,' where the last line of each sonnet is the first line of the next and the final line of the last sonnet is also the first line of the first one (a sonnet redouble) -- like the way arguments themselves often come full circle; 'The Cancer Sonnets,' where the opening line of each subsequent sonnet is made up of each line, in sequence, from the first sonnet and 'Free Fall' where the last line of each subsequent sonnet is each line, in sequence, from the first sonnet.
Of course, it's not just the technical achievement of these sequences that is significant. The poetry itself is wonderful. This is particularly true of the final sequence that has a philosophical depth that marks its out as special. It seems to have a subtle emotional impact that sings to the soul. These sonnets are meditations on love, a relationship that's failed and how one should live one's life when this happens.
The cup struggles
to be full,
Then something else drains it away.
The result is a constant source of angst
She's lived with all her life. Still, she gives thanks.
This is easily the best poetry book I've read this year. It is no wonder that it has been nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.Gather your dollars together and send off for this book now.