The new issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review, released last week, includes a review by Barbara Crooker of a recent poetry volume, The Little Offices of the Immaculate Conception, written by Martha Silano.
OUT OF THIS WORLD: MARTHA SILANO’S THE LITTLE OFFICES OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
Martha Silano’s third full-length collection, The Little Offices of the Immaculate Conception, contains poems that are simply out of this world. That’s not hyperbole; almost two-thirds of the poems in this book deal with some aspect of the extraterrestrial. But these aren’t poems with their head in the stars; rather, they’re firmly grounded in crumbs, crickets, and the stuff of daily life with two small children, a blend of what Campbell McGrath calls the “quotidian and celestial.” These poems veer from the galactic (“I Live on Milk Street,” ie, the Milky Way) to the down and dirty (slugs attacking pole beans). Silano shuffles poems about the cosmos and the existence of God with poems about the everyday (“This Parenting Thing”), and she does this with panache, humor and wit. Reading Martha Silano is like ripping open a bag of pop rocks; words explode in the mouth with juice, jive, and fizz. Some of the ways she makes this happen are via diction and word choice, syntax, strategy, rhythm, and humor. But always, she keeps in mind her larger themes: the strange and the alien, the earthly and the terrestrial, family and parenting.
Silano often uses titles to announce these themes, beginning with the other-worldly: “They know all about us on Andromeda,” “Crickets, God, Phan Ku, Pickles, Synergy, a Wayside Church, Anaxagoras, Anaximander, More Crickets, the Cosmos,” “What I Will Tell the Aliens,” “My Place in the Universe,” and the aforementioned “I Live on Milk Street.” She might set up a poem like this, anchoring an image in one spot, then letting the poem open outward, finally ending up someplace else, reversing expectations: “Because I knew you’d understand this—you, me our sibling // earthlings, our sibling citizens of this swirly world, / which only grows bluer the farther away from it we get.” (“Because I Knew”) “Sibling/earthlings” echoes nicely, while the image of Earth as a “swirly world,” again with an ear to sound, follows the motion of the poem as it telescopes outward. Having the earth grow bluer as seen from space moves the emphasis from the earthbound to the ether, giving the poem an interesting shift in perspective that purposefully keeps the reader slightly off-kilter.
The poems in this book slip back and forth from the cosmological to the liturgical. Barbara Hamby says that “Martha Silano is jitterbugging with the gods,” and that is an apt summation. Her engagement with the ineffable is not via orthodoxy, but rather, the wonderfully irreverent. . . .
I invite visitors to examine the entire review of Martha Silano’s book, as well as to read the rest of Valparaiso Poetry Review’s Fall/Winter 2011-2012 issue, the journal’s 25th issue.