Joseph Zaccardi's review of One Bird Falling by CB Follett
One Bird Falling, by CB Follett
After reading CB Follett’s varied and wonderful poems in One Bird Falling, I found that they would sneak up on me days after I read them. They worked their way into my body. I have gone back to many of her poems and found more of the otherness they possess; her use of animals –– fox, geese, deer, pelican, dogs and horses et al –– helped me to understand more. Their sweetness ruins me; their mixture of pain and pleasure terrifies me, because what she writes about is truth, and truth is almost indefinable, since everyone has his own history and beliefs; everyone feels he has right on his side.
This is foremost a book of poems about all living things and all things that have lived. It concerns reconciliation, an accounting. The narrative thread is in the weave of their forms: incantations, allegories, concrete prose poems, stories; all done with the feel of an artist who uses the broad sweeps of her brush to create a pastiche that is both historical and personal, fictional and fantastical; a certain cursive movement of language that entices the reader.
Here, in One Bird Falling, CB Follett’s seventh full-length collection, there lie significant leaps between the political world and the natural world, leaps that bear upon the imminent concerns of today. Follett allows the travelers in her poems to act out their own tales in their own ways and gives the reader the sense that the characters, real and imagined, are receptive and reflective, and most of all vulnerable. She is acutely aware that her prophetic words make it difficult to answer the questions she poses. She follows Robert Frost’s Road Not Taken, “…the one less traveled by,” to lead us out of the desert into a garden of regeneration.
Follett gives her poems a voice that is direct and wry. The collection is a journey through its six sections. I found that by putting the section titles together, one discovers an overview of this work that can be read as a coda, as follows:
In the section Heading Out, she begins with one of the finest poems I’ve ever read about September 11th, One Day Last Week, that builds upon this tragedy and expands it to the tragedy of our war in Iraq. In a prose poem sited in the desert of that country she writes, “Sand is the guerrilla ambush, the dirge heard in the wind. This is the enemy. This, the invincible foe.” These are strong words, and strong words are what America and the world needs to hear. The poet says, violence is wasteful, terrorism is wasteful, both are wrong.
And from section to section there are several weaves –– i.e., in the poem Odysseus, “He has not forgotten the way home, / he has forgotten home” segues to Belonging, “So I say to you, home is not where / you find it. Home is where you put down / roots and return with that conflicted sense / of belonging.”
In this book Follett attempts (and I believe, succeeds) to take a new approach to the longstanding questions and their answers, about all our longfelt and heartfelt needs. By any standard, the poems as they face each other from one page to the next are fascinating; they exude wit and humor, suffering and endurance, courage and tenacity. What they do not evince, from first poem to last poem, is cowardice.
The penultimate section deals with remembrance, past and present, of the poet’s mother, “In her tenth decade…” where the poet directly faces mortality and a daughter‘s guilt, “to watch your mother sinking in shadows.” Then Follett shifts to an earlier time, in This Is Not a Poem About My Mother, where the first line starts with these striking words, “Rather, about a young woman…” The last section, Outside, Calling, is more thoughtful, meditative and prayerful. In the poem of the same title she writes, “a cairn of stones / blue flies cracking through sunlight.” And then shifts again to a wistful poem where she imagines a life completely different, a place where she could have been “horse ridin’, boot wearin,’ “ concluding with, “How to enjoy so much space. How to call this home.”
My hope is that for those who have already read One Bird Falling, they will find something in this review to send them back to re-read and contemplate CB Follett’s work, and for those who have not yet read them, to seek out this book and return, as did Odysseus, to their own homes, to try on the body of these poems and feel the way it feels. This is poetry that does not talk to the reader; this is poetry that allows the reader to think, and to find that universal path:
This review was previously published in Pacific Northwest Poetry Review, 2011.
Copyright ©2015 Joseph Zaccardi