rating: 3 of 5 stars
Every poem in Christine Potter’s first book of poetry, Zero Degrees at First Light, contains some form of light or some object that is fused with light from the moon to windows to chandeliers. Her poems evoke nature, music, family, a 200-year old house and high school teaching. She also has a gift with sounds, especially ending vowels. All of her chosen poems evoke her world and we see the magic in each of the small moments she creates with craft and care. Her skills lie in her remarkable first lines, which then take her leading narrative into fresh paths and angles that the reader is not expecting. She strikes a mostly serious tone in her poems, but then flashes of her humor are evident her two sonnets, one about the closing of her favorite sushi restaurant: "On the Closing of Ichi-Riki, Nyack, NY (Where I Have Eaten for Twenty Years" and the other about teaching 9th graders: "On Teaching Romeo and Juliet for the Sixteenth & Final Time."
For instance, in the poem, “To My Husband, Who Dreamed of Tidal Waves as His Father Was Dying” starts off with
I think of your father born, instead,
in a hospital I have never visited: bright high windows,
Then the poem moves in another direction as old age is likened to a sunset, and not to waves and we discover, “Everything but light lies.”
The poem ends on the image of stars, “silent as new ice and perfect, perfect –”
She also believes in the circuitous nature of time and she interprets time effectively in her poem, "Developing Prints, Age 13"
when I'm twenty-two, I will meet you on a commuter train
and you will be married to a bullfigter and tell me
that giving birth feels like having your heart pulled out.
As a reader we're in the present and then we're whisked away to the future, so we possess a fuller picture of the speaker's emotional journey.
She also jumps around in the time in the poem, "Chintz Couch":
Years later, in antique stores, I will find couches
like the one we cast off, but they will be strangers
who whisper the ends of stories I can't imagine,
prayers with the wrong words, from strange religions.
Another example of her time folding is in "Sleeping in an Empty House"
We don't know yet the chimney leaks creosote behind the walls,
how the wiring, too, could lose us this place.
We haven't seen the single, perfect beam, half-covered with bark
I look forward to reading more of Christine Potter's poetry complete with her pitch perfect ear and boundless imagination.
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