The spoken and unspoken moments of Carroll’s GLTTL STOP

GLTTL STPGLTTL STP by Doritt Carroll

BrickHouse Books 2013 $12.00

A review by Sonja James

Beginning with the title, GLTTL STP, Doritt Carroll’s new book of poems encourages us to consider the importance of what is present and what is absent in our understanding of the world. Though Carroll has removed the vowels from the title, she kindly defines herself and her project by clarifying the title in the epigraph at the beginning of the book. “GLTTL STP” is “glottal stop,” which is “a sound produced in speech or singing by a momentary complete closure of the glottis.” This is also described as “a tightening or choking off of sound.”

Carroll simplifies this definition in the title poem, “glttl stp.” She clarifies herself in the opening lines: “everything good/is in the things/that we don’t say.” She then gives examples of “glottal stop” with images from everyday life: the space between sculptures in a museum, the moment before a struck match bursts into flame, and the tension in the air before a recess bell rings. She concludes with the image of two birds pausing in their song “because it was/the right place/in both of their songs/to pause/the/glottal stop.”

After establishing these parameters of the spoken and the unspoken, Carroll then decides on the concrete content of exactly what she is willing to reveal about herself in subsequent poems. In the poem, “2010,” she writes of the death of her father while distancing herself from it. She writes of herself in the third person: “the year her father died/Christmas wasn’t awful/just divided.” In “report,” Carroll reverts to the first person and gives a cheerful account of an ordinary day of life.

The upbeat mood does not last. She then writes four poems that are reflections on various aspects of death: “final commendation,” “death poem #5,” “in re: the scheduled rapture,” and “erasure.” The opening lines of “erasure” sum up the finality of death: “everybody dies the same/boning up like skeletons/stinking like toilets.”

In “first apt.,” Carroll turns to a different subject when she describes an incident of marital discord between a newly married couple. In “to each,” she elaborates on the theme of relationships:

we come into this place

trailing clouds of others

daughters and husbands

mothers we hated

lovers we rejected

and forgot about

loved

forgot again

The closing poem of the volume, “edits,” compares life to the act of poetic creation. Carroll addresses herself as “you:” “you’ve already written the poem/but now you have to fix it.” The poem she speaks of stands for the act of living one’s life. Everything in the poem is “in the wrong order” and the poem and she have “never really gotten along.” The poem can’t be erased because it has been written “in ink.” At this point she tells herself “there’s no more blank paper/so the only thing you/can really do with it is/revise/revise/revise.”

And so the volume concludes with this note of hope. Life in its permanence and vast array of mistakes can be revised. Carroll has spoken, revealing herself as one who is overtly silent and yet profoundly vocal. This is “glottal stop.” The vowels have been restored in this book celebrating and defining what one poet is willing to say and not say. The poems in GLTTL STP transport us to the edge of speech and then save us from any temptation to leap in despair. This is an exciting book and one worth reading.

Sonja James is the author of Baiting the Hook (the Bunny & the Crocodile Press, 1999), Children of the Moon (Argonne House Press, 2004), and Calling Old Ghosts to Supper (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

Poets are invited to submit recent books for review consideration. Contact Sonja James at sonjajames@earthlink.net

Review for Peter Weltner’s The Outlands

The Outerlands by Peter Weltner

BrickHouse Books 2012 $18.00

A review by Sonja James

Peter Weltner’s The Outerlands is a superbly crafted book of poems that electrify with their emotional impact. Weltner, who lives in San Francisco, writes sensitive and highly aesthetic poems about the Pacific coast, his family, his sexual orientation, and his struggle with religion and notions of the afterlife. He also writes of art, composers, and various poets who have touched his life.

Throughout the volume Weltner revisits his loss of faith which occurred when he was thirteen. He is openly pained by his inability to believe in God. In “A Walk Down Mount Tamalpais,” he excavates the origins of his lack of faith:

 

Thirteen, when I lost my faith, I set myself on

a mortal quest. Old age would come and I’d

be done, having learned what I’d sought, all God

had wrought on this earth, and I’d be willing to go.

Is it too late? In ancient Colonus, death brought

one blind to an olive grove. I wait by the sea.

 

Weltner’s loss of faith and lack of belief in an afterlife informs his poem, “A Dead Man in the Dunes, New Year’s Day.” He posits the life after this one as “nothing” when he states “I’m buying too much stuff: books, CDs, DVDs./There’s not enough time left for me to read,/listen to, look at them. I’ll be nothing too soon.”

He continues this nihilistic trend in the title poem, “The Outerlands,” where he writes of the place where a man drowned “last Sunday.” He describes the loss of the body of the man: “No body has been found washed up on the beach./It’s become unlikely it will ever be recovered,/another soul, his name, lost to Pacific riptides.” He then compares the makeshift gravestone of the man to the wreckage of a ship called the Prince Philip which went down in a tempest in 1886: “It’s mere traces now, fragments/of a vanished world….”

In “Resurrection,” he describes his mother’s death: “I’m always too late. Ninety, she dies alone/in a metallic white, shrilly lit hospital room.” He closes the poem with the conclusion he has drawn about any possibility of an afterlife: “There’s resurrection but not for us.”

The hope of the book lies in the poet’s relationship to other artists, both living and dead. He writes poems that resurrect the dead without glossing over their personal failings. In “Randall Jarrell,” he describes the poet Jarrell at a party given for his step-daughter. He describes it as an evening where “There’s pain in the air.” In “Ezra Pound,” he highlights the anti-Semitism of the Modernist poet, Ezra Pound. He also writes of poets Delmore Schwartz, John Wieners, and George Oppen. He celebrates his love of music by commemorating Joseph Haydn, Rossini, Edvard Grieg, Arnold Schoenberg, Richard Strauss, Shostakovich, and Igor Stravinsky.

Of these poems about composers, one of the most hauntingly beautiful passages is from “Edvard Grieg:” “Such cold is what his music wants to say,/the strange chill of age from the day he was born,/the nip of fall in all he has loved, the notes/of his scores chiseled from ice. That crystalline./That light, impossible to touch or hold, like sleet/to a boy’s delight melting in his hands.”

The sheer virtuosity of the poems in The Outerlands demonstrate that Peter Weltner is a poet to be reckoned with. Both the human condition and the human heart are the subjects of these often gloomy poems where we are allowed to glimpse a moment of salvation when Weltner writes of art and music. This is not a book for the faint-hearted, but then, no work of such brutal soul searching ever is.

 

Sonja James is the author of Baiting the Hook (the Bunny & the Crocodile Press, 1999), Children of the Moon (Argonne House Press, 2004), and Calling Old Ghosts to Supper (Finishing Line Press, 2013).

Poets are invited to submit recent books for review consideration. Contact Sonja James at sonjajames@earthlink.net