Beautiful in the Mouthby Keetje Kuipers, Thomas Lux Published 01 Apr 2010
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Thomas Lux selected this debut collection as winner of BOA’s A. Poulin, Jr., Poetry Prize. In his foreword he writes, "I was immediately struck by the boldness of imagination, the strange cadences, and wild music of these poems. We should be glad that young poets like Keetje Kuipers are making their voices heard not by tearing up the old language but by making the old language new."
Keetje Kuipers, a native of the Northwest, earned her BA at Swarthmore College and MFA at the University of Oregon. A Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, she divides her time between Stanford and Missoula, Montana.
From Devils Lake Journal:
“Keetje Kuipers’ Beautiful in the Mouth is at once lovely, frank, and haunting. The poems move easily between landscapes, inhabiting the American west, Paris, and New York City with equal ease and yet, they never exploit sympathies of locale for their power. Instead, they rely on nothing but the speaker’s own candor, who is able to speak through such disparate poems as “Bondage Play as Substitue for Prayer” alongside “Waltz of the Midnight Miscarriage,” “Reading Sappho in a Wine Bar,” and “Barn Elegy” with a good spattering of honest-to-goodness sonnets.”
From ForeWord Reviews:
“The poems move like ghosts themselves: disappearing into walls, circling back, appearing for a moment to be captured, then evaporating into thin air. Kuipers pins moments onto the page with the care of an etymologist collecting rare specimens. Her poems are at once visceral and cosmic, “a wave as well as a particle.””
"Beautiful in the Mouth" Reviews
Crunchy-textured reality, that's what I call the poems in this book. There's flight but always grounded in the small sensual moment. Incredible ability to use the things of this world to express emotional truths. Here's my favorite at the moment:
4TH OF JULY
If I have any romantic notions left,
please let me abandon them here
on the dashboard of your Subaru
beside this container of gas station
potato salad and bottle of sunscreen.
Otherwise, my heart is a sugar packet
waiting to be shaken open by some
other man’s hand. Let there be another town
after this one, a town with an improbable Western
name—Wisdom, Last Chance—where we can get
a room and a six-pack, where the fireworks
end early, say nine o’clock, before it’s really
gotten dark enough to see them because
everyone has to work in the morning.
I’m not asking for love anymore.
I don’t care if I never see a sailboat again.
Curious if this just came to me at the wrong time. Kuipers has a very sensory style (and often very sensual and erotic) that I expected to enjoy, but it didn't resonate at this moment.
A beautiful collection of poetry with tightly crafted poems from the heart. They range all over the country, with a strong sense of place, along with a honest passion. Some poems are very much New York City, which I love less, having never been enamored of that city, but others, set in more rural environs. I ended up dog-earing a dozen pages to remember, so I won't quote all those poems here, but one of my favorites is "River Sonnet."
When the old she-salmon swam to my rock
where I had sat to watch her moldering
transform into a fruiting body, clock
of flesh stretched about pale pebbles, ticking
tail where her roe lay like scattered apple
blossoms the rain adhered to the road,
and her great heaving sides stained with the dull
flowering shapes of fungus, I could not know
what secret pain it took for her to nose
against the current there, the large head scarred,
flanks those of a barnacled ship: she rose
from shallow water, a calcified shard
bearing time's white etchings, and one dark eye -
lidless - that willed I mark her drifting by.
There is so much that is so right in this poem. The unexpected, yet perfectly apt, metaphor of the clock, drawn out to the "ticking tail" and "time's white etchings," both also perfect in the alliteration and then the consonance. The images are so perfectly the fish, and so it then transforms into the sense of suffering and decay, the hardship of journey's that are impossible for others to imagine, and yet we can strive to empathize.
Most of her poems aren't as straight forward nature poems. Many have to do with love, sex, and relationships. They all have a strong physicality. I also loved the pair of poems, the first titled "The Undeniable Desire for Physical Contact Among Boys of a Certain Age," with the poem that follows it, "The Lake Oswego Girls' Soccer Team at the Hilton Pool," both poems about the innate physicality in kids - the ways kids fully inhabit their bodies, a way of living most adults have long ago lost, or only have it in moments.
All in all, this is a great collection of poetry, by a strong voice, and I'm glad I read it.
Oh, and this marks my 30th book for the year, and my 15th book by a woman this year, keeping me on track to keep a perfectly gender-balanced reading list for 2014. But I'll write more of that in my blog.
Worth it for the similes alone: "a hidden / birthmark like buckshot on your belly," "the hammock swaying on the porch / like a crippled moon," "a bedspread like a patch / of flowers freshly trampled." And my favorite:
the Dior coats
on last winter's sale rack just as sleek and black
as the pelt of that wolverine we found
on Rock Creek last January.
Rock on, Keetje Kuipers. (It's pronounced KATE-juh KEEP-urz, btw.)
Kuiper's wonderful poem "Across A Great Wilderness Without You," recently arrived in my Inbox courtesy of the Academy of American Poets. In one of those happy coincidences, I learned that the poem was from her first book, BEAUTIFUL IN THE MOUTH (BOA Editions, Ltd.), which had been chosen for this year's A. Poulin, Jr. publication prize by Tom Lux--and, how weird is this?--not only was Al Poulin my first editor, having plucked HURRICANE WALK from the slush pile, but Mr. Lux had also picked one of the best debut collections--Anna Journey's IF BIRDS GATHER YOUR HAIR FOR NESTING (2009)-I've read in a long time for the National Poetry Series.
Journey's book was recommended to me by Molly Bendall, and a lovely Q & A with Journey will appear in the MS/TX segment of "Notes on the State of [Southern] Poetry," Bendall herself appearing in the first, devoted to Charlottesville, which also contains a beautiful contribution by Lisa Russ Spaar. I can't recommend any of these poets enough--or Mr. Lux himself!
Certainly the poems are accomplished. The first ones in the collection seem like crafted exercises rather than being passion-driven. An overuse of adjectives presents a room so filled with objects that the eye fails to select what’s significant. It seems an unusual, and thus deliberate, weakness in a poet who has clearly honed her skill. Perhaps it is simply her fancy, adding earrings, bracelets, necklaces, jeweled tiara, rather than just one perfect medallion. However, as the poems proceed, they strut forth muscular and exact allowing emotion to trump style. Poems like Reno, Across a Great Wilderness Without You, What I Know, and My First Lover Returns From Iraq are strong and memorable. Kuipers is indeed a poet to contend with.