Online Edition: Spring 2010

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 American Gothic, Take 2

 Maria Terrone

 Finishing Line Press ($12)

 by George Guida

The evil of banality lurks “like ax murderers” in a recycled cardboard takeout cup, in “Muzak . . . stuck on hiss,” on a spouse’s computer as “his eyes read the monitor / like a love letter,” and in a series of phone messages “lying in wait / on your bedside phone.” Maria Terrone wrestles this insidious spirit into the light in her new chapbook, American Gothic, Take 2.

In an American life long on contact but short on connection, words mangle and are “mangled,” an adjective that the speaker of the opening ars poetica, “Scraps,” applies to a poem draft discarded in a takeout cup. The cup that has claimed the speaker’s words is itself a mundane objet d’art, “an Acropolis cup of Aegean blue,” about which this now short-order artist concludes, “I offer America my own moveable feast.” As other personae do here, she manages to redeem violent or violated language through the whimsical humor that also animates Terrone’s earlier collections—The Bodies We Were Loaned (Word Works, 2002) and A Secret Room in Fall (Ashland Poetry Press, 2006). Whereas the humor of those earlier books blunts the force of concussive loss, here it soothes the inflammation of inconsequence.

In the manner of Mark Strand, Terrone extends metaphors to explore the labyrinths of existential angst. She does this to best effect in the rangy “The Beatles Throw a Party in an Ancient Temple.” This prosy poem’s controlling metaphor is a dream; most of its lengthy lines describe the Fab Four’s unconscious “soiree,” as a means of transcending a fearsome epiphany:

When I walk down the street or descend into the
subway, I am not thinking of antiquities and the
tragedy of their destruction but how I can be saved
from destruction—by terrorists, or time itself. It is not
dying
. I am no longer young.

The scene leaves the speaker and us with an image of impersonal comfort,

. . . surrounded by the idols of my youth, all of
them youths, too, all still alive, bobbing their
heads up and down as they hobnobbed with their
guests. It is not dying.

So any attempt to transcend our fragility is as much an italicized wish as the neat unpacking of a dream.

Although Terrone has in the past exhibited a formalist touch as deft as Elizabeth Bishop’s and a knack for arresting turns as keen as Margaret Atwood’s, in many of these two dozen poems she prefers unassuming structures (“A Star Looks Down on the Oscars”) and straighter lines of thought (“At Land’s Edge”), which balance a variety of generally deliberate figures. A stanza from “Means of Travel” typifies the volume’s modest approach to form and theme:

Now I’m back, wingless, finless,
wondering how to live.
Better to stumble to the edge
of each day and teeter there,
or pound stakes into the earth,
camping far back in camouflage?

The question implies an imperative that concerns us all, and that finds an artist in Maria Terrone entirely conscious of its importance: how to will into being “a string that you follow” through the everyday.


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