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Small Matters of Life-Enhancing Poetry: Arshi, Fletcher, and König

05/01/2015 11:53 am ET | Updated Jun 29, 2015

If all poetry is an autobiography of the author's inner life, then Small Hands (Liverpool University Press, 2015) gives us a striking glimpse into how beautiful and troubling it is to be Mona Arshi. These are sensual poems, in which mouth and hands recur, but always in service to a wistful surrealism. Take "Taster", for example, in which the speaker tastes "it" because: "Auntie Naveen's best friend tasted it and she never looked back", "I want it to purr and stink inside me", "I miss the children", "I'm losing my verbs".

Many of these poems employ lists that progress in intensity of strangeness. Yet others take narrative form, hinging on a careful detail--musing about her mother's wrists before she wore gold bangles, or the stones that she discards when sifting pulses. To be married, as to be an immigrant, takes its own form of alienation, and even forms of housekeeping advice passed among women acquire an impractical otherness, such as the suggestion for dealing with an insomniac husband to, "cure your skin with almond oil until it's bloated / and the pores are brimming."

At the heart of this collection, though, is grief--of an immigrant father who "will never go back" and of a family for their brother and son, about whom the coroner "doesn't know / in a certain light his / hair // took the colour of / blue-black ink / and how he would // wind himself / around my mother's body / to sleep." Redolent with the peculiar intimacies of family, and brimming with carefully-controlled and surprising imagery, Arshi gives us a book to return to--not to revise our intellectual understanding, but to slip into her skin.

Sarah Fletcher's Kissing Angles (Dead Ink Books, 2015) is teeming with imagination. She often employs second-person in epistolary address and "dear diary" confession. "This is a Confessional Poem" speaks from the vantage of the other woman, wondering if the two could have ever been friends under duress. Many of these poems employ strong end-rhyme and are imbued with a fairy-tale-like quality in their fully-formed fabrication. They also provide the same thrill of impending disaster, the speaker longing to "live like characters / in a children's book" when in fact she is at the effect of something darker.

Such speakers are often either mistresses or wives--learning in their way to love rough matadors, Nazi officers, and of course British "Lads" the morning after, "having fished them into sobriety / like a plastic bag wrenched from a river / when they are on their backs and gorgeous / like funeral home corpses". At the height of her powers, Fletcher plunges us into even darker terrain and fugue-like states of self-deception, as in the delicately controlled "A Villanelle with Two Endings", which you simply must read for yourself. Bold, talented, and wry, Fletcher is one to watch.

Anja König's gives her Advice for an Only Child (The Flap Series, 2014) with blade-like precision and a keen eye for the telling detail. Though love and loss are immense matters, they are also immensely personal, often brought into crushing focus in small and seemingly innocuous moments. Take "Dump", for example, about clearing out a departed loved-one's possessions at a place where "they weigh the car / on the way in / and out / charge for the difference, the weight / left behind" and the cat's pillow is incinerated in a conveyor-belt-fed furnace where "the sign says 'don't jump in'".

In "Battersea" the speaker notices, "syringes / and a rubber glove: light blue / thumb missing, between blades / of grass newly green." This precise enjambment, reminiscent of Louise Glück, recurs throughout these poems, tilting the mundane sideways in small moments deeply felt. Equally concise are her observations on relationships, as in "Sight Seeing for Two" where the speaker retraces the spot where she fell in love, discovering in the cafe where the new couple had an argument that "a whole flammkuchen is too large for one person." These are sharp, plainspoken poems, reported very much like the "Weather Forecast" in which, "I pass / all / the places / where / I lied / to you." Spare, controlled, and all the more devastating for it--König is a poet keening and wielding considerable poetic force.

Each of these three poets draw us in to small matters with short poems that open out into the whole universe of an inner life--bold, beautiful, compelling and utterly unique. One would do well to keep these three books close to hand, as passports into a fuller range of what it feels like to be human.

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