Pavement Saw Press, Ohio   2012  $7.00




Reviewed by Emma Lee, Annie Fisher and Helena Nelson


Emma Lee:
Candace Kaucher draws on both her own experience and those of others in her role in nursing, for example in ‘Schizophrenic Special’ where she suggests it’s “tough to dance to music/ that never leaves the ear”:

A self contained chanting choir
rubs down your soul with ointments
freely unencumbered by things that are.
Beyond meaning too a system
uncorks tightly knit familiarity
into a frenzied ocean.

There’s fondness for alliteration and assonance but the metaphor of internal music isn’t sustained. The “frenzied ocean” is a surprise and there’s no reason why the image couldn’t be one of a conductorless orchestra reaching for a cacophonic climax. I sensed on occasion that Candace Kaucher let language guide the poem, getting carried away by sounds and rhythm of words without examining their logic and direction. ‘Preparing to Prepare Preparing’ presents awkwardness not just in its title:

Unfinished in this sheer gunpoint of presence
we yell out letters through the void of the wind
heroically perched on some crazy seaside
cliff placed everywhere we stand.

Everywhere we stand
space and directionless surround us
as does what already exists equally structureless
but automatically possessed: appearances.

The “we” isn’t identified so it would seem not to be a group of friends or family, but a generic group who share the poet’s outlook. It may not be important, but it’s a distraction and I’m not even sure the “we” in the first stanza is the same “we” in the second.

The first of the two stanzas quoted above also takes some unpacking. I think it’s the “gunpoint of presence” that’s “placed everywhere we stand” rather than the “crazy seaside cliff’. I don’t think it’s the “seaside cliff” that’s “crazy” either but the people gathered in the apparently pointless activity of shouting letters into the wind. I suspect they shout letters to pick up the assonant link to “yell” rather than using “words” which would alliteratively fit with “wind”. It seems to be a commentary on how little influence our relatively short, individual lives have on the universe as a wider whole.

But I don’t think the effort required to decipher the poems is rewarded. I found myself spotting sound patterns and accidental rhymes rather than reading for meaning. There’s clearly a love of words and sounds, but to my mind it’s not fully disciplined into poetry.


Annie Fisher:
Kaucher strikes me as a fearless questioner and challenger of life, and undoubtedly a lover of words, who enjoys letting poetry pour out as free thought. Occasional lines struck me as possible koans, maxims, or simply as quirky maxims to mull over:

“When did we awake to curse the sun?”

“Can the dismay that makes it hard to sleep become another story?”

“Time is our attempt to put the world into the world.”

When it came to whole poems – sometimes they intrigued me, one or two amused me, but most confused me. This may be what the poet intends.

The titles were sometimes helpful, as in ‘Schizophrenic Special’, the opening poem, which empathises with the experience of schizophrenia and needs the title to make this clear. Other titles such as ‘Preparing to Prepare Preparing’ didn’t help me much and some, such as ’Existential Epipsychidion’, made me think I needed to do a bit of background research first.

Sometimes the opening lines drew me in (for example in ‘Schizophrenic Special’, “In a shortened out sector of mind/ Where the dream becomes the world”) but often I was lost from the start, as in the opening lines from ‘Simply Deeper Everyday’:

Poignantly emphatic teleological splatter
inherent immanence situating nature
first whipped up by wind
of circumstances born captive
to the service of things

Occasionally, the use of rhyme created the illusion that I might be on the verge of understanding something, although the range of vocabulary sent me scurrying to the dictionary more than once. I wondered at one point whether Kaucher composed by writing interesting words onto post-its and arranging them into sentence-like structures. But I suspect she just enjoys the play of language, lets thoughts flow, and relishes the disjunction it creates. If I stopped trying to make sense of anything, I found the sounds flowed smoothly.


Helena Nelson:
The Flesch-Kinkaid readability test is included with Microsoft Word as standard. It is a formula for telling how hard something is to read, based on length of sentences and length of words. Easy reading consists of sentences of monosyllables. The longer the words, the harder the text. Candace Kaucher’s ‘Simply Deeper Everyday’ begins

Poignantly emphatic teleological splatter
inherent immanence situating nature

These words have a lot of syllables and, as the poem continues, it doesn’t get much more penetrable, not least because its 19 lines are a single sentence. And yet – when you get to the end – suddenly, like blue sky opening out between clouds, there’s:

the real reason for living is in between
people separated by categories
or the mere idea of them.

This reflects the experience of reading Kaucher fairly well, I think. Nearly all her poems fluctuate between moments of clarity (and sometimes lovely phrasing) and patches where the reader is pounded by syllables, the sense lost. This may be a deliberate manipulation, but it creates a problem. When the reader keeps getting stuck, the process of reading stops being pleasurable. If you stop enjoying yourself, usually you stop reading.

Flesch-Kinkaid doesn’t take account of grammar, but there are often grammatical firewalls here too, sentences where one’s unsure what is verb, what noun (“Sentences no longer form, solid yields/ declarative might crumbled center court / slumbering, half full of limitation” in ‘Life’s Intangible’), or sentences with no finite verbs at all, compounded by line breaks that interrupt a phrase.

So this poet is difficult. The issue, then, becomes whether there’s a pay-off if you keep working at it. Some of the poems were too hard-going for me. Others kept me engaged. ‘Antiseptic’, for instance, handles a complex thought about the concept of “vision”. It is not easy to follow, but it is simply explained – the reader is drawn in. And there’s a great pay-off at the end:

I always knew I liked obsession.
But I never banked on love.

So she can do this. In ‘Preparing to Prepare Preparing’, which resists the reader stalwartly for a whole page, there are suddenly shorter lines and blue-sky reading: “Though it seems/ time is expansive / there’s barely an inch / to move around in.” In ‘Girl Boy’, she talks beautifully about a “silence more safe than voice”. I wonder whether she uses words as a disguise. The back cover tells us she is a "visual artist" and I wonder whether she thinks about poems in a whole different way from most people.

I’ll end with ‘Still Life’ in full. It is untypically short and easy to read, but the characteristic voice of the poet is in it. She is brusque, wry and impatient with humanity – and she has something to say:

Thoroughfare rushes by oblivious people
who sit still exactly where
gravity has dumped them, more or less.
History has no conscience otherwise
It would quit repeating us.