Saturday poetry pick: The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart

“I’m looking for a book of persona poems, and it can’t be too long.”

That’s what I said to John at Open Books last Sunday. I was there for Martha Silano’s Reckless Lovely reading, and I wanted poems for the coming week–but not too many poems, because I was still trying to figure out how to read and commute to my new job.

John handed me The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, by Gabrielle Calvocoressi.

Oh, rock my world!

These poems are huge in their spareness, tender in their ferocity. The book includes two sequences of persona poems, “The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart” and “Circus Fire,” another sequence about Billy Strayhorn, and the linked sonnet sequence “From the Adult Drive-In.” Plus more, and each of these poems flattened me, knocked me on my ass. Reading them, I felt like I was having a cataclysmic vision and getting a tutorial at the same time.

The imagery is exact, without ornament–both plain-spoken and lyric. The lines of the poems and the poems themselves have quiet space around them. It reminded me of the space around Greta Wrolstad’s poems, which felt spiritual. Here that space allows the poems to be heard clearly in all their harshness and their humanity–to bear witness without distraction.

Here are two sequences from “Circus Fire”:

A Word from the Fat Lady

Graves We Filled Before the Fire

Honestly, it’s hard to take these out of context. Find a copy of The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart and read the whole poem.

Thank you, Ms. Calvocoressi, for writing this book.

(She also has a volume called Apocalyptic Swing–on my list.)