Saturday, August 6, 2016


Review by Martin Abramson
By Francine Witte
Finishing Line Press, KY
$12.00, 28pp, Paper

                  Except for Sylvia Plath, I can’t remember when a woman poet communicated so poignantly her love for the wrong man. Poem after poem expresses the loneliness and hopelessness of desertion. Yet, in the subtlety and artistry of Ms. Witte’s literary handiwork, the total effect is not sorrow but a kind of pleasure: the pleasure of discovery. Organized into free verse stanzas, these poems, while feeling conversational, have the sure rhythm and strong meter of iambic pentameter sonnets. The poem, Dream Lover, is tensed between opposite poles of desire and renunciation:

                   All those nights I wanted John
                   to call. See how good? See
                   how really good I can quit you?

                  But he didn’t listen. Or call.
                   Just shows up in a dream last week
                   with the past slung over his shoulder,
                   Sinatra-style. This time I’ll be
                   different. No fists.

She notes in The room wants to know:
                    The Room Wants to Know
                     where you go every night…
                     and why the mirror takes you
                     back every chance it gets.

In Moment, her despair enlarges:

                     One day, you’re alone,
                     and a moment opens up
                     wide as a white beach
                     where anything can happen

                     only nothing does.

In Not Only:

                       I deserve better, she said,
                     as she billowed a blanket
                     above the bed that was only
                     half-slept in.

And in Woman and Silence:

                                                   Now Woman 

                       eats alone, and when Silence shows up,
                       faithful, like it does every night, 

                       Woman offers it a chair.

In Still in the Laundromat, thinking about laundry and her first love:

                         I must loosen the cling   
                         one sleeve has around another,  
                         and as I do, I think how tangling
                         and untangling involve the same motions.

A Flood offers a metaphor for her predicament, as she sits on the roof, her house completely submerged:

                          All her belongings
                         clean now, and silent
                         beneath her.

                         All she has left
                         is to wait for her man
                         to come sailing home
                         on the back of a door.

In, Party, 1991, we first meet John:

                                                                      …John struts in,
                         new face, eyelids sloped   
                         like a suicide run. He fires
                         up a Marlboro, blows out steam, not smoke.
                         Soon, we’re dancing a foxtrot…

                         God, it’s a sin  
                         to want a man
                         I don’t even know.
                         But I’m breathing Marllboro
                                                 John’s all man-sweat  
                          and leather. Insanity perfume.

The author, in Only, believes herself finally free of him:

                            Today, I watched your outline
                           blurring against the landscape     
                           as you were painted back
                           into the world.

                             …I heard
                             the sound of a wound
                             beginning to knit.

But It Could Happen suggests a relapse:

                                                      …I thought
                            this was over, this universe where
                            you are the weather…

                                             …But running from you
                            is a strange direction, like the moon
                            spinning into the velvet dark.

The last poem, Now That You’re Gone, suggests a final cure: “I am practicing/ living without you.”

                              Once, last week
                            I wiped your face
                            from the early morning
                            glass. By then,
                            you were nothing
                            but a thin frost,
                            easy as dew to remove.

“Or maybe,” she adds, “that too was a dream.” The poems are not dated, so I can’t tell you whether the author’s feeling of emptiness in Moment is a result of her renunciation in Now That You’re Gone. But whatever the chronology, Ms. Witte certainly wears her rue with a difference.
                Ms. Witte is acutely aware of the supernatural forces behind natural phenomena as well. “There’s a thunder to everyday events/ that rolls so steadily, we block it out.” She sees her man engulfed in a tornado with her in Twister, and creates an ironic synthesis: “We started circling until centrifugal force/ pinned us up against opposite sides.

                               …we must have past (sic)
                            each other a thousand times as
                            we spun round and
                            round and round…

In One Night the Moon Runs Out of Patience, the moon humorously announces that she doesn’t care “how you pine away by her light” or “the tides or Chinese calendars”. She’s tired of “earth tilt, and sun/ pushing her out of the sky.” She wants to “make the crops grow’ and “…do the circuit,/ Oprah, Larry, Jay.”

                              In a sort of ode to the sun, I seen you, Sun, the author portrays the sun’s shifting roles in her life: when fugitive rays find her in the subway, or slick through a Venetian blind; when her mother “…left us like a pile/ of clothes she was giving away…” Even in a country setting, the sun curving “around the back/ of a mountain”, she suspects treachery: “…I know how you/ could shine on me and stretch/ me flat against the field;” but succumbs, letting the sun “stroke/ me sweet and bleach my brain/ till all I know is/ warm, so warm, so warm…”

Ms.Witte ties it all up with in evocation of time in Clock.

                                                       I am watching the clock
                         As it stretches its hands to a future that waves
                         from the back of a truck.
                                                     …then there’s this
                         minute unable to stand still long enough and a clock
                         steady in the sky of my kitchen wall
                         keeping time as if anything really could.

Francine Witte has certainly frozen some poignant moments for us, given us a deeply affecting gaze into the workings of her mind and delighted us even as she tolled the bells of sadness. It’s been a pleasure reviewing the work of such a gifted poet and I look forward to following her promising career in future.