01 January 2010

Crazy Love by Pamela Uschuk

Review by Naomi Benaron

Crazy Love
By Pamela Uschuk

Wings Press 
Perfect binding, 102 pages
ISBN 978-0-916727-58-1
Link to Purchase


Crazy Love, Pam Uschuk’s new poetry collection is just that: crazy love. Each poem is a wild white-water ride down a raging river. In a voice ranging from sparsely narrative to stream of consciousness, Uschuk navigates through a landscape carved from the natural world, ecology, politics, family, and above all, the mysteries of love in all its incarnations. Uschuk is passionately committed to the world she lives in, and her fire burns in every line.

Each poem in Crazy Love grows from Uschuk’s confident voice and innate rhythm. In a recent interview with Derek Alger, she said, “As a child, I loved rhythms, loved words.” (Pif Magazine, August 16, 2009) This love is evident in the playfulness of language and sound. Her poem “Christmas Dawn” begins:
Five degrees and I slip
through the front door for kindling
when the click of the lock spooks
the buck just off the deck grazing on cheat grass.
I feel each meditative footfall in the stressed syllables, hear its frozen echo in the still morning resonate with every k sound. In her poem, “Meditations Beside Kootenai Creek,” I enjoy faint stirrings of Pablo Neruda in her plunge into the metaphors of water and her fresh and unexpected pairings of images:
Your black hair waves like tentacles
or a negative halo radiant in its aquamarine pool.
Like the blind minnows, your fingertips
bump the smooth skulls of stones underwater
Uschuk was raised in a multi-lingual home, and her language resonates with the sounds and songs of the Slavic tongues she grew up hearing. Her poems constantly surprise, constantly renew, constantly twist and turn along the freshly-blazed trails of her poetic terrain.

In a single poem, Uschuk’s language slips easily between the lyrical, “On diminished wind, tiny moths/white as thin dead lids/navigate the sun’s final rays,” and a brutal realism, “fresh from Baghdad, a slim line of flag-draped coffins/drifts down a Maryland conveyer belt.” In this poem, “White Moths,” the juxtaposition brings home the contrast between war’s harsh reality and a beautiful and meditative moment far away from the front lines. Just as the fighter jet “rips the underbelly of sky,” Uschuk’s words rip open the quiet mood she has created and replace it with a stark image of the cost of war. “Event becomes myth,” Uschuk says in “With Its Toll of Char,” and indeed, in Uschuk’s lines, event becomes myth, myth becomes event – over and over.

Uschuk is equally at home in the narrative voice of “Saving the Cormorant on Albemarle Sound”:
I focus on a pair of cormorants a hundred yards offshore.
One startles skyward eaten by fog
as its mate slinghots up then slams
back, leashed to the gray chop.
and the stream of consciousness of “With Its Toll of Char”:
Inside midnight’s sleeve
the architecture of imagination slips
from its routine mooring
in an earthquake of dreams . . .
In “Cormorant,” Uschuk tells of saving a cormorant tangled in a net strung across the sound, building narrative tension as skillfully as any storyteller. In “Char,” she creates a dream world. She glides back and forth between the mystical place created by a journey through night fog where “All sounds bassoon in haze” and the image, pinned by her car’s headlights, of a dead fox and her grieving mate by the side of the road.

The natural world is at the core of Uschuk’s poetry; it forms the riverbed over which all her verse flows. Like a tour guide in the back country, she names every bird, every creature, every plant. We journey with her to South Africa, the mountains of Colorado, her childhood home in Michigan, and she paints each place with stunning clarity and loving tenderness. 

In every poem, Uschuk spins in her sensual and prayerful world like a dakini, the Tibetan Buddhist goddess of her poem by that name. “Blossoming in Lilith’s Garden” begins:
I pick wild cherries plump as the fire moon
as I brush through
my garden’s full blooms—
       fuschia petunias that tongue
velvet Pasque flowers pulling themselves
erect as silk temples next to blousy lips
I am reminded of Bruno Schulz’s wild and fecund landscape in Street of Crocodiles. In both Schulz’s prose and Uschuk’s poetry, a world is created in which one is always somehow unsettled, as if the edges of things are never quite square. In her own life, Uschuk is familiar with a world of unclear boundaries and expectations. Speaking of her mother, who suffered from bipolar disease, Uschuk told Alger, “Our family spun on the tilt-a-whirl of her frequent psychotic episodes.” In the case of her poetry, however, we freely ride the tilt-a-whirl of her language. Although we never quite know where each line will take us, we are glad to be along for the journey.


In the end, it is love that binds together Uschuk’s eclectic collection of poems: love for the natural world, for her husband, William Root, a fellow poet, for her family and all their quirky stories, for, “the stories of those people or creatures who have no voice or whose voices have been suppressed in some way,” as she told Alger. No matter the subject, Uschuk’s poems are filled with prayerful reverence and fiery devotion. In her poem “Motorcycle,” Uschuk ends by asking the question, “What souvenirs of wise/devotion will we leave, scattered like empty boots/for our kids to try on?” She asks similar questions in many of these poems. Love, she affirms, in any of its various incarnations, provides an answer. In “Change of Heart,” a poem for her sister Val, she says, “it is never too late for repair . . .never too late/for a malformed heart to create/a new pathway, opened, loved.” Whatever the cause of our own heart’s malformation, Uschuk’s poetic arms embrace us. Her unabashed passion heals us.

***

Naomi Benaron’s short story collection, Love Letters from a Fat Man won the 2006 G.S. Sharat Chandra Prize in Fiction (selected by Stuart Dybek). She was a finalist for the 2008 National Best Books Awards, the Eric Hoffer Award and the Montaigne medal, and her novel was a short-listed finalist for Barbara Kingsolver’s Bellwether Prize for a Novel of Social Change. Among other prizes and awards, she is the winner of the 2008 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, the 2008 New Letters Readers’ Choice Award, and the 2005 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in numerous in print and online journals. She lives in Tucson AZ where she teaches writing and geology at Pima Community College.