Auto Mechanic’s Daughter
By Karen Harryman. Black Goat; 86 pgs., $14.95.
Karen Harryman’s “The Auto Mechanic’s Daughter” feels like a travelogue of poems; it is partly musings about the narrator’s own life and her observation of people. The settings are Harryman’s native Kentucky, her current resident state of California and various places in Europe.
The first impression of this book of poems is of a breezy read; however, Harryman makes particular use of alliteration, peculiar line stops and a mouthful of strung-together words. This is poetry in layers, and peeling is optional but totally recommended.
Harryman writes from the perspective of a naturalist sketching the world around her. She takes the same care in writing about loved ones as she does passing strangers, particularly blue-collar workers. “The Truth” takes place on a London train headed for downtown, and her husband, dressed plainly, contrasts against the backdrop of suited 9-to-5ers headed for work. Harryman admits she could have married a man that provided her with an SUV-driving, church-attending lifestyle, but it’s the little things that keep them in love.
The landscape is not Harryman’s only terrain — the narrator delves into dreams about her mother,
nightmares and memories about tornadoes. Laundry, belly-dancing and bar-hopping all make guest appearances as well as an ode to Kentucky titled “Kentucky Blason.” It is clear that Harryman’s muse is life and the lives of others. — Claudia Olea
By Nickole Brown. Red Hen Press; 112 pgs., $18.95.
All of the poems in Nickole Brown’s recently published collection, “Sister,” are as turbulent as the opening piece in which a tornado witnesses the narrator’s birth. The collection is at once a plea for forgiveness from a younger sister, whom the narrator abandoned when she moved out of the house as a teenager, and an unabashed confession. The effect feels like two children playing Indian burn, their aggression shocking anyone in proximity. The beauty of the writing lies in the truth boldly and carefully etched in every line.
The narrator tugs her younger sister into a time machine to review her life. Here, Brown uses the écriture style (think James Joyce): There is no linear and rational walk down memory lane except for the bookends of a birth and an invitation. In between, the narrator recollects masturbating while reading Bible verses as an adolescent and a mother sneaking to smoke a cigarette while she’s about to birth a child. The line “let it go” and the symbol of yellow crayons are prevalent throughout the collection. And the language doesn’t need explications; Brown follows the simple rule of writing — show don’t tell — and trusts her audience.
At www.nickolebrown.com, Brown asserts, in the third person, that “she proudly sprang up from mud, and there she remains.” And, like a master potter of words, Brown molds a clay of repressed anger, betrayal and stagnant Kentucky humidity to produce a disturbing and magnificent lyrical memoir. —CO