LAURA CARTER Reviews
Called by Kate Greenstreet
(Delete Press, 2011)
Called is a journey of sorts, and it seems to me that it’s about becoming a poet, or being called to something. Greenstreet writes often in the book about soldiers, and one gets the sense that this call might be something to doubt, in the sense that there are very rarely (at least for me) thoughts of entering an army without fear. She weaves her story beautifully, using voices that are part of a larger landscape, though it’s also an interior landscape. Having been a fan of Kate’s work for a long time, I’m pleased to read this chapbook and to find some of the same themes in this book that appear in her other work: questioning, characters, colors, etc. It is a true pleasure to write about Called here!
The book starts out with a simple question: “But what about fog?” It’s as if, in this book, we’re moving through a series of fog-like questions that might guide us to an answer to the question of what it means to be called to anything. Her second question is: “What about / anonymity?” and with this we begin the process of asking about what it means to be on a stage, presenting as a called one, at least to me. She writes about colors, too, the various shades of a family house that has burned or else been left behind, and there are intimations of a call that makes one human as opposed to animal. Greenstreet writes: “Animal to person, person to plant. Who’s not going to accept a call?”
We move from landscape to building, and Greenstreet writes that “suddenly we saw a church.” It’s as if there’s a religious tone to this work, and if you’ve read Greenstreet’s fabulous Young Tambling, you know that she has a religious background. Her ethos is perhaps best summarized in the following lines:
We shouldn’t tell ourselves stories
about a better world
It’s just a life
What you find around you
So many fish these days
Here’s my explanation of death: There is no water.
These poems probe what it means to be called to something, to have desire for something, and also what it means in light of a bigger picture. Greenstreet uses images that are familiar but also uses them in new and vivifying ways, so that we get to see what a call would really look like. She writes:
“A lamp in my work
might make you think of a police interrogation, but it’s also
religious, like a candle.”
We get the sense that she is always leading us across a field of sounds and voicings that point the way home. She introduces us to real characters, and she describes them in a way that lets us in our their thoughts, which provides the main crux of the book. We learn from her wry wisdom, too, that “Not much has changed in the future” and that “ ‘The experience depends on the way in which a memory is retrieved.’ ” The book ends with a correct assessment of the voicings that have carried us all this way, meandering through accounts of soldiers and men and women and such: “I could never get too close to him physically. / We hadn’t taken any main roads.” This seems to be the perfect ending for a journey that meanders along minor paths to finding what is ultimately the secret of an ending, that there are humans in our world who need us. Greenstreet’s use of the soldier analogy to get to this is quite pertinent and leaves us, at the end, finally getting on a main road, maybe one we hadn’t known existed before.
Laura Carter lives in Atlanta. Other reviews have appeared in The Fanzine and Atticus Review.