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Lovely and Remarkable…

September 6, 2011

The back cover of the current issue of Colorado Central shows someone reading a book in the woods. Look closely—the book is upside down. That’s one kind of subtlety.

Another is the poetry of Angie Estes, so full of subtle perfection it becomes a delightful effusion rolling from one poem to the next.

Angie Estes was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2010 for her book of poems “Tryst,” so of course she must come to Salida in 2011.

“In Vita Nuova, Dante invokes / Beatrice to show how ‘tryst’ was once / the same word as ‘triste,’ also related to / ‘truce,’ how close it feels to / ‘trust’ …”

Reading Angie Estes’ poetry feels like a tryst, and now I trust her completely.

I hesitated every so slightly looking at the first two poems because of italicized quotes and French and Latin phrases. I had a similar experience years ago at the start of the novel “Riddley Walker,” when the inventive language made me say, “Oh, no,” and then within a page I forgot where I was until the book was over.

I’ve rarely read a book of poems through in one sitting, but I couldn’t stop with “Tryst.” The poems follow each other beautifully. Her images are surprising, apt, and beautiful.

It would be grayly academic to try to explain her poems, but I can summarize them: They are about memory and history; writing, script, parchment, the Word; artifacts, mementos, flesh, incarnation. They are about feeling the world with great attention.

“Bourree” begins by mentioning how dancers pound their new pointe shoes on concrete to muffle the sound they will make on the floor. At the end, she describes her mother patting herself with a powder puff—

“—the way
a ballerina’s pointe shoes strike
the stage, deer running through
duff in the forest or rain
hitting dust, on which, if your ear
is close enough, you can hear
the rain pronounced.”

But you must read the entire poem to feel all the echoes in this section, and read all the poems for the echoes that reverberate throughout the book. I think it’s lovely and remarkable.

I had to check to see who won the Pulitzer that year, because it’s hard to believe it wasn’t Angie Estes.

The poems left me feeling more alive and at the same time vaguely uncomfortable with my own incarnation and mortality. It’s like that odd discomfort about something that makes you squirm and laugh at the same time.

Throughout it all is a profound sense of the sacred, of memory, and of the word. “—All roads lead to this / room, which is how Rome was / pronounced in Elizabethan times. A word, / like Rome or redbud: just the memory / of touch and it bruises / into bloom.”

There is much careful, joyful, respectful word play. There’s a poem that trumps even e.e. cummings. The poem “Ole” made me smile each time I read it, but I can’t quite say why. Humor is inexplicable.

I could write a book about “Tryst” ten times its length, but it would be pointless for poems of such clarity and delight.

Maybe Angie Estes will read some of them. She will be at the library Sunday, September 18, for a reading at 3:00 p.m., after a workshop at 1:30 p.m.

Both are free, but the workshop is limited to 10 participants. We’ll keep a wait list, and for fairness confirm your participation before the workshop. If you get in, bring a poem or two of your own.


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