by, Erinn Batykefer
2009, Red Hen Press
The mark of excellent poetry is that it leads you to places you could never find on your own. Erinn Batykefer’s collection of poetry – Allegheny, Monongahela – does that and more. Far from a simple collection of poetry, Allegheny, Monongahela tells an interwoven story of growing up in Western Pennsylvania based in part on titles of the paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe while relating a sometimes beautiful, sometimes violent, often depressing family history.
The pallet of language Batykefer paints with is far broader than most poets. And unlike many collections, never once throughout the interlaced poems does her voice falter. Some poems – such as Eureka Vacuum – stand alone using the simple images of childhood. In other cases, two or three poems flow together to paint an overall image of life and death. Three poems in particular speak to the loss of her grandfather, ending with the powerful Death in the Family, which sent me off to call my insurance agent and schedule a physical. The Inheritance bears witness to a fight between her mother and sister. It is done so well because rather than placing you in the room, she is able to make you experience the memory of it instead. While often dark, there are glimpses of the beauty of the region such as in Two Yellow Leaves, describing autumn along the Allegheny River. Anyone who has ever spent any time in Pittsburgh will find instant familiarity in Pittsburgh as Self-Portrait I and II. The Whiteout wraps the feelings of depression tightly within the imagery of a long Northeastern winter. I read Horizontal Horse’s or Mule’s Skull with Feather four times – and loved it more with each reading.
Poetry collections often miss the mark by surrounding several great poems with groups of mediocrity. Allegheny, Monongahela does no such thing. If you have any interest in poetry and you want a collection that reads like a novella, you need to pick up a copy. I, for one, will be reading it over and over again to inspire me to take my poetry to another level.
For more of my reviews, click here.