Monday, July 26, 2010

Allison Joseph's Voice

Allison Joseph Voice: Poems. Bay City, MI: Mayapple Press, 2009.

Allison Joseph’s brief collection Voice: Poems is hilarious and sexy, painful and real. She looks at everyday occurrences, like walking down the street or listening to the radio in the morning, and also turns her glance inward, to the haunting anguish of a father’s rage. No matter what the topic of the poem may be, Joseph connects with the reader through creating a genuine, engaging voice. I found myself at turns nodding my head in agreement and leaning closer into the book, listening as I would to a friend revealing her thoughts to me.

In “Pedestrian Blues,” Joseph takes the simple act of walking down the street and creates a sense of empathy for the pedestrian or everyday man or woman that we pass as we drive to our destinations. As we sit in our cars, we rarely think about people on the sidewalk; we woosh past them without a second glance. Joseph reminds us that they too are going places, “My feet may be tired, / but I’ve traveled this far,” and have things to do, “—learn my guitar, / write poetry that no one else will groom.” Joseph thus takes the common saying “Arrive alive” and applies it not only to the drivers, but also to the pedestrians who they rush past but who are also traveling, moving toward their next stop.

In “Elegy For My Father’s Anger,” Joseph creates a voice recalling childhood and how the rage of her father caused horrific and enduring pain. Although he beat her, “I hear you hit bottom each time I catch a vision / of myself at nine, notches of your belt hitting / the arch of my backside, its elegant curve / wrecked as an alley…,” it is his words that seem to have caused the most damage, “…rank speech from his lips that cut me / harder than his belt or his hand…” As I read this poem, I remembered the stories of abuse that my father suffered at the hands of a man who was never happy, who always felt as though his life were miserable because of those in it and his circumstances.

Although there is despair in the last line of the poem, “I try to kick myself free of this: my inheritance, your gift,” hope lies in the title of the poem and its first word “Goodbye.” The poem itself seems to be an attempt to rid the subject of the memories of her father’s rage, to step away from physical and verbal abuse, toward peace.

[By Emily Phillips]

Looking for Allison Joseph
Promise of Poetry (2010)

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