Saturday, April 17, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: Cat City by B.J. Cassidy

Cat City by B.J. Cassidy, Northport, NY 2002, 43 pages. (Self-published chap-book: available from author at 631-261-6505: $5 ea.) Review first published in Book/Mark, Spring-Summer 2002-03

Reviewed by Martin Abramson

Bonnie Cassidy has given us one of the most delightful collections of cat poems since Old Possum. From her cat-patrolled ramparts overlooking Long Island Sound, she has stirred up a magical, mewling brew made up of two parts love and one part exasperation. And to spice up the mix, she has sprinkled in vignettes and encounters from her life.
Like Eliot’s cats, Ms.Cassidy’s have individual personalities e.g. Pooka, a mischief maker probably related to Eliot’s McCavity. Or Calphurnia, so obsessed with flowers that she’ll habitually knock vases off shelves just to smell the lilacs and azaleas. Then there’s the savage Miss Kitty and the elusive Ghost Cat with his “blue glass eyes”. But B.J. goes Eliot one better in the very personal relationships she maintains with her feline family:

she blends
into my flesh
she is
not a lover
but somehow loves me
when others do not


…my cat
in my bed
even as I write this
she is climbing on my chest
rubbing her face against mine
and purring


only the cat understands me
as she tries to enter
my mouth
this is a divine mystery

Over and over, Ms. Cassidy catches the mystical feline essence of her subject.

Silent tiger
stalking toward nirvana
your footsteps silent
your breath silent
an aura about you
silent and silence

…the storm wind
moans in ecstasy
yes yes
swirling and gusting
and the feral cat cries
at the front door
“let me in”

Miss Kitty is coming
to hunt and to feast
and no one is safe
from the claws and the teeth

But the true wonder of this book lies, as in all fine poetry, in the loveliness of the line and the luster of the image. The grey cat is “…invisible at night/mistaken for shadows/in the sun”. And: “…like a white whale/a big tom cat/appears in the side yard”. Or: “the crows are entering the trees/they talk to each other/about the cats”. Or:

who could replicate the
sleeping cat
from a blueprint
while scientists follow
the dots
a red cardinal flashes
against the pale leaves


we used to have a ghost cat
in the hall way
small and black
he would lie
curled up
till you reached out
to pet him
then he’d fade
now my son says he’s back

Ms.Cassidy is particularly skillful in suggesting the interaction of men with cats. In “News Flash” a businessman steals millions, escapes to Florida with two cats and dies of drink. At Key West, Hemingway’s cats accompany “the black man/with the drum” by “caterwauling”. And in the title poem, her cats sense that “the man smells/of smoke/fire saltwater/fish/when he comes/to my bed”. (Hmmm, that sounds like a certain, celebrated, maritime poet who lives in these parts, but I do not hypothesize.)
The truth is that no collocation of brief excerpts can really connote the atmospheric mystery, idiosyncratic humor and elemental strength of these poems. They need to be read in their entirety, each a complete and moving moment, each amplified by the preceding and following poems as well as by the continuity of the entire collection. The poet is like the cat in that:

I sing because I must
there is no contemplation
no musing in my songs
they spring
from endless wells
of bottomless
unfulfilled yearnings…

in deep woods at sunrise
under the boardwalk
I sing

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