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Alice emerges from the poems of Annotated Glass as the goddess Athena must have from Zeus’ head—after enormous pressure and wholly formed. One of the great satisfactions of reading this book is the surety of Alice as a person. The speaker in these poems brings with them an authority that securely carries the reader into the furthest reaches of imagination and the lyric poem. No matter how far through the mirror these poems venture, Alyse Knorr’s deft handling allows the reader to enjoy them as they might an unsteady carnival ride, uncertain, but sure of the fact that they shall emerge in one piece after the spinning has stopped.
The moves that Annotated Glass makes surprise and turn the reader about. Knorr’s lovely subtlety in turning words and phrases delights, “along rows of pines cascading daily, ever-green / ever whispering ever medicated—ever gone / skinny dipping holding some…” At times the writing becomes as attenuated and as mysterious as Alice’s journey through desire and loss.
At the core of Knorr’s debut book of poems is the charting of Alice’s inner cartography through childhood and adolescence. The first stirrings of sibling rivalry mix with the later twinges of first love, and those with deeper currents of abandonment. Those looking for a straightforward story will find it: Alice grows from childhood to adulthood, but still retreats into her own dream worlds. But be warned, these fantastical worlds are anything but safe. Reading these poems provided me with a similar experience to Alice recalling her first meeting with her lover Jenny, “my heart crunches into, and back / out of its small foil ball…”
Alice, her younger sister Rose, and Alice’s lover Jenny seem to triangulate throughout the book. Although none of these women ever appear together in a single poem, they constellate and hold dominion over any other figures in the book. Their stories wrap around one another into a continually knotting series of images.
What a reader is left wanting from these poems is perhaps a bit more wildness. Each poem is a tight machine of sound and music that at times become restrictive in its too-often compact form. Less than half of these poems are prose poems, but the shorter lines and quick movement may leave a reader feeling as though he or she needs to come up for air. One always hopes that Alice will escape the page and sprawl toward freedom onto the next one in a single poem, but this never happens.
Readers who appreciate a careful ear for music will be happy with Annotated Glass. Knorr knows how to make her lines sing. Anyone familiar with the poems of Lisa Olstein and Carol Guess will find a kindred spirit among these pages. I highly recommend Alyse Knorr’s first book, published by Furniture Press Books.
By Alyse Knorr
Furniture Press Books
Paperback, 9781940092010, 80 pp.