Thursday, April 12, 2012

Poetry Month: Play Button by Liz Robbins

Some of you may remember a Poetry Month Spotlight I shared last year during National Poetry Month about poet Liz Robbins. I interviewed Liz and shared one of the poems from her first book of poetry, Hope, as the World is a Scorpion Fish.

This year, I'm back with more Liz. Her 2010 Cider Press Review Book Award winning volume of poetry, Play Button, is out and definitely lives up to the hype.

From the beautiful cover to the powerful poetry within, Play Button is an award-winning volume in every way.

The collection features a total of 56 poems, ranging in style from prose poetry to form poetry like the pantoum and the sonnet.

Many of the poems have to do with childhood or adolescence, an adult looking back at tumultuous times in youth. There's also a strong feminist motif - several of the poems address sex trafficking and almost all explore the role of the woman, playing with the dichotomy of good girl versus bad girl. The poem "Wasted Lament", for example, starts with this description:
The wrong kind of girl, she wanted the wrong kind
of men. Like most bad girls, she was divorced

from reality. Inside she was good; that's how she thought
people saw her. Inside, a child, listening to her mother
Likewise, "An American Artist Marries" clashes the societal expectations of women with reality when the woman in the poem marries, but does not give all she has to her new husband:
But even as she gives in, promises her life this
second devotion, she keeps quiet the patch
of land covered in clover and pines
she's held onto for years.
This poem is one of my favorites in the collection - it's lyrical and layered, but also has a simple facade that readers can enjoy without digging.

Robbins also incorporates Christian and religious motifs in this collection, most notably in the poems "Jesus, My Suitor," "God Poem," "Communion", and "Unwrapped".

"Unwrapped", another of my favorites, is also one of three poems in the collection that centers on the death of a teenage girl named Lauren, a good childhood friend of the poems' narrators (whom, I suspect, are all Robbins herself). "Sonnet from Memory" gives the most factual information about the tragedy:
You made the headlines - U.S. Magistrate's
Daughter Killed in I-95 Wreck -
your father still ruling over you, your fate,
his title, bold above your broken neck.
But to me, the most emotionally stirring of the Lauren poems is "Unwrapped." To respect Dr. Robbins' copyright on her poem, I won't reprint it's entirety, but I do want to share some lines:
When my friend Lauren wrapped
the hood of her car around a tree,
I was sixteen and still of the belief
love did not unstick with death
or time. I thought the memory
in my mind of her honey-streaked hair
and gravelly laugh would remain
intact, that I'd, in fact, pull it up,
turn it over like a stone daily, that
as a friend, I was obligated to.
... Why else
would I, weeping on her bed a few
days after, notice the pack of
Carefree gum on her night stand
and steal a stick? Why place it on
my tongue like a spearmint wafer,
chew it then swallow, all for the
little piece sure to stick - as I'd been
warned - forever inside?

Some of my other favorites in this collection are "Peach Dream," "Partial Psychoanalytic Transcript of Christmas Day," "Going Back," "Love is Changing, And I Won't Change," "Intuition, or Methods of Transportation," "Orchid Room in a Botanical Garden," and "House on the Lake".

I also love these lines from "Made-Up": "I'm running / out of things to hold / dear, which explains the shadows / above my eyes, the nails gone / vicious, the wine bored at its / window, the mad candelabra".

In all, I highly recommend this volume of poetry. Robbins is one of the more promising up and coming poets in the United States, and it's easy to see why. Her poetry is bold, beautiful, unapologetic, and at times, controversial. I expect the poetry world will be talking more about Liz Robbins and Play Button in the future.

If you're interested, Play Button can be purchased directly from Cider Press Review.

I hope to bring you more Liz Robbins next year, as her chapbook "Girls Turned Like Dials" has recently won the 2012 Yellow Jacket Press Prize and will be published soon.

This book counts toward my goal for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Challenge.

2012 Fearless Poetry

This post is a part of Savvy Verse & Wit's 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.