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  #1  
Unread 03-17-2016, 06:38 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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Many thanks to Editors Rory Waterman and Nick Everett for publishing this review of my book!

Review of Terese Coe’s Shot Silk in New Walk Magazine, UK
By D.A. Prince

This is a collection by a poet who has not only read widely and relishes the challenges posed by language, translation, poetic form, rhyme and rhythm but also understands how essential lightness is to poetry. Few poets have the confidence and mature skills to bring light verse face to face with its opposite but in Shot Silk, her second full collection, Coe makes it look effortlessly easy.

Let’s start with the debts she acknowledges to other poets. There’s Christopher Smart and his Jubilate Agno, ‘Fragment B’ (better known as ‘For I will consider my cat Jeoffrey’) which Coe reworks into praise for her son:

For I will consider my son Shay.
For he is the servant of his Kawasaki and daily working on it.

The poem gains depth as Coe shifts from his motorbike, girlfriend, and ‘e-things’ to considering his qualities:

For when attacked, he will grab the other’s wrists and hold them tightly rather than fight.
For I have seen this twice and was glad of it.
For he prayed to the Buddha as a small child.

Then there’s W.H. Auden’s ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, which in Coe’s hands becomes
‘Letter to Anton Chekhov’, using the same fluid rime royal that Auden employed:

Your plays still plumb the interplay between
words and silence, plotlessness and plot
in which you show an uneventful scene
composed entirely of what was not
to be—the spent emotion scattershot
around the stage in wraiths of lost pretension,
and meaning haunted by the fourth dimension.

This demonstrates something of Coe’s skill in the interplay of ‘light’ and more serious themes. Pastiche is only one of her techniques: she uses a larger variety of form than is usual in contemporary collections, and not simply for the sake of it but because the form she chooses is an essential element in the poem. In ‘Rondeau for Rhina’ she uses an unfashionable form in praise of Rhina Espaillat, one of the US’s most accomplished poets, in a fine balance of subject and form:

Apollo gives his luminosity
to one who tempers rhyme with remedy,
a maverick in the home and yet a mate,
a universal poet whose estate
is balance, measure, singularity;

She can rework a villanelle to her own ends; rhyme—in couplets and quatrains and whether full-rhyme or half-rhyme is never forced but rises naturally in each line. When she uses the sonnet, the form sits underneath the subject, not flaunting its own identity but contributing to the shape of thought contained in its fourteen lines. She can make a short poem under ten lines punch well beyond its length. She can write a good list poem: ‘Seeing Matisse’ itemises in four rhymed quatrains the motifs that appear across a range of his paintings:

Ballooning sleeves, embroideries,
odalisque citrine,
arabesque anemones,
blooming crepe de chine

‘Tooth and Claw’ uses the octave of the sonnet to list ways of killing, while the sestet punches home the reasons for slaughter: ‘For envy, power, greed, for shackled slaves, / for access to the sea and concubines.’ All of this is skill of a high order that doesn’t show off: it’s embedded in her creative process.

The collection is in two sections: first are ‘Poems’ (forty-four, ranging in subject over her friendships, travels, literature, and observations on life), and then we find ‘Variations’ (her versions of Pierre de Ronsard, Heine, Rilke, and Borges), which sympathetically bring the originals into the twenty-first century. For Ronsard this means responding to his robust humour and strong rhyme with her own. Take the opening of ‘Ode to Jacques de Rubampré’:

Since soon I shall be dead asleep
Beyond the River Styx,
What use is it to wade knee-deep
In Homer’s little tricks?

She is drawn to other poets when they write about death, reflecting her own acceptance of the inevitable which ‘Poems’ has already revealed. Her version of Heine’s ‘Where’ is in a quiet, unsentimental register; ‘They’ has a timeless sadness in its final, monosyllabic quatrain:

But she who did the most
to torture, vex, and grieve me
has never hated me,
and she has never loved me.

The final variation—‘1964’, after Jorge Luis Borges—is the best translation of this poem I’ve seen, and one that pulls together many of Coe’s own themes. I’ve praised her use of lightness, but it is always a lightness in the face of death; in ‘1964’ the lightness is present only as an easy, everyday vocabulary, something that makes the ending of life into a familiar and untroubling emotion: ‘Already the world has no magic. They have left / you’; ‘That useless quirk that turns me / to the South, to a certain door, to a certain corner.’ The poem’s confronting of loss of happiness is curiously soothing, and makes for a fitting conclusion.

Terese Coe has a breadth of human understanding and the technical skill to match it, and Shot Silk is an exceptional collection.

Issue 11, Autumn/Winter 2015
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  #2  
Unread 03-18-2016, 08:59 AM
Ed Shacklee's Avatar
Ed Shacklee Ed Shacklee is offline
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Congratulations, Terese -- that's a fine review, by D.A. Prince, no less, with a generous sampling of verse. Just to mention one that stands out, the slice from the Chekhov poem will win you readers by itself, I'd guess, and leave some of us thinking, "I wish I'd written that."

Best,

Ed
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  #3  
Unread 03-18-2016, 09:58 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Just what Ed said.

From elsewhere on this board, I've compiled a list of contemporary poets that I want to read soon. I've added you to that list.
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  #4  
Unread 03-19-2016, 07:51 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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Thanks very much, Ed and Michael. Hope you're both right about the Chekhov stanza winning readers, and that you enjoy the entire poem when you see it.
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  #5  
Unread 03-25-2016, 07:02 AM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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For those of you who missed it, Mike Juster wrote a review of Shot Silk in for Angle in 2015: http://anglepoetry.co.uk/wp-content/...0Issue%207.pdf

It also mentions some poems from my preceding book, The Everyday Uncommon (2005), and includes a brief history of the 'New Formalist' movement beginning in 1990 with Bill Baer's founding of The Formalist.

(Scroll down to p. 55.)

Here's a video clip of my reading of one of the Ronsard translations, introduced by Wendy Sloan:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FlWEXey-67A

Since Angle is no longer online, here for the record is Mike Juster's review of Shot Silk as it appeared in Angle on the web:

Angle Spring/Summer 2015
Review
Terese Coe ‘Shot Silk’ 2015

By A.M. Juster

A quarter-century ago it looked like the postmodernists were right. Poets who clung to rhyme and meter were remnants of a dwindling endangered species—like the giant Galapagos Islands turtles or America’s liberal Republicans.

The emergence of a few ‘New Formalists,’such as Dana Gioia and Wendy Cope, as heirs to Richard Wilbur and Anthony Hecht did little to disrupt planning for formal poetry’s wake, and academia did seem to enjoy fine-tuning ill-tempered eulogies. Nevertheless, a funny
thing happened on the way to the funeral. In 1990 William Baer founded a meticulously edited journal devoted to metrical poetry called
The Formalist. Soon extraordinary newcomers, such as A.E. Stallings, Timothy Murphy and Catherine Tufariello, appeared on its pages next to Richard Wilbur, Anthony Hecht, Derek Walcott and Gwendolyn Brooks. In 1992, a literary Postal Service employee, John Mella, founded the influential Light to revive the almost lost art of light verse.

In 1995 Dana Gioia and Michael Peich started a conference on form and narrative in poetry at West Chester University. Despite the modest expectations of even its founders, formal poetry’s Woodstock soon became the largest conference in the country devoted exclusively to poetry.
The revival of formal poetry accelerated in 1999 when a visionary outsider, Alex Pepple, debuted Able Muse, the first online journal for formal poetry. As an adjunct to Able Muse, he created Eratosphere, an online workshop with the same modest expectations that Gioia and Peich originally had for the West Chester conference. To Pepple’s surprise, history repeated itself; like the West Chester conference, Eratosphere exceeded its founder’s original expectations and rapidly became the largest online poetry workshop in the country.
Eratosphere lured and nurtured budding formalists around the world.
One of these poets was Terese Coe, a native New Yorker with a background in prose and drama who began workshopping her poetry at Eratosphere in the wake of 9/11 and shortly thereafter published in major journals, including Poetry. Coe’s The Everyday Uncommon (Word Press 2005), was an impressive first book. Her work—while not always
‘formal’—regularly displayed a strong command of traditional forms. Moreover, she often wrote with the admirable concision and music of this 9/11 poem, ‘Archaic Halo’:

This was all of pyre and halo,
hell and hallowed ground.
Here we stand above Ground Zero,
living, still unfound.

Other poems, such as the ‘Letter to Virginia Woolf,’ a channeling of the ghost of Auden writing to Byron, demonstrated Coe’s wit and range.
Coe’s second book, Shot Silk (White Violet Press 2015), reflects many of the same themes and skills of The Everyday Uncommon, but it is more adventurous in its use of language, more ambitious in its themes, and more indebted to a wide range of literary traditions.


Shot Silk includes a few poems in received forms, such as ‘Rondeau for Rhina,’ a tribute to the great formal poet Rhina Espaillat, but one is more likely to see ‘Coffee Break,’ a dimeter sonnet, or ‘Leophantos,’ an imitation of Posidippus with unpredictable line lengths and rhymes.
Manhattan is the primary landscape of Coe’s imagination. After the first line of ‘Notes from a Tenement Downtown,’ the density and contradictions of that landscape resist end-stopped metrical lines in favor of enjambment and a loose iambic rhythm:

The more original it is, the more
enigmatic. That could be said
of this apartment, which is
133 years old. Alexander Cockburn
was here to talk about a mutual friend’s
suicide. Drag comedian Jackie Curtis
in his 70’s heyday acting out his fantasy of
‘Three Girls at a Bus Stop’ on an audio
tape. Up the block Eddie Condon and Phyllis before
they gave over their Washington Square apartment
to their daughter Maggie, Eddie in his
chenille bathrobe, Phyllis finally understanding
when I said their younger daughter was
alienated. That put it into perspective for
Phyllis, a 1940’s intellectual. Don Barthelme
climbed three flights of stairs to pick up
his daughter from a play date.

While Manhattan’s cacophony seems to impinge upon Coe’s Buddhist inclinations and lyric moods, her time in the simpler and more expansive American West liberates her for her more spiritual poetry. Her trimeter lines, dense with alliteration and internal rhyme, seem to draw on the hypnotic music of Welsh or Celtic poetry in ‘Approaching Salt Lake
City from the East’:

All wild and always wary,
we drove, when newly wed,
a thousand miles of prairie,
the Wasatch dead ahead.

December was September,
and March already May,
the past a haunted ember
abandoned by the way.

Through chalk-dead no-man’s-lands
we walked the rasping shale
and touched the pale pink bands
along a bone-strewn trail.

Coe maintains a similar trimeter music in the Western lyric, ‘Prayer for the Prairie’:

The road, the road, and going
through fields of yellow crowned
with haystacks, westward blowing,
and we are outward-bound.

In mysteries unmastered,
the surface falls away
from bluffs and broken pasture
to badlands’ grizzled clay—

a mineral salt and mordant,
a phosphorescent hush
where nothing is discordant.
That streak of blue, that blush.

In Shot Silk Coe mines some of the veins of her first book. A haunting 9/11 poem, ‘Habitation,’ begins plainly but powerfully with:

The ghosts against the sky are thin and tall,
and each a different height, the smoke a dream.

She again channels Auden’s sound and tone in ‘Letter to Byron’ with her
‘Letter to Chekhov.’ She also amusingly channels the ‘For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry’ section of Christopher’s Smart’s Jubilate Agno as she makes loving fun of her son.

Coe’s ability to channel other poetic voices makes her a natural candidate for translation, and one of the ways that she has progressed from her first to second book is that she has joined the ranks of formalist poets who are renovating the translation of classic European verse. I sense that she is happiest as a translator when her subject is Pierre de Ronsard because it gives her a chance to rollick and flash her wit, as in this section of her version of ‘Ode to Jacques de Rubampré’:

Since soon I shall be dead asleep
beyond the River Styx,
what use is it to wade knee-deep
in Homer’s little tricks?

Sonnets cannot rescue me
from shadow or from dust
when Rhadamantus, Hell’s trustee,
expects me, spitting rust.

I suppose the odes I write
may gain some recognition,
but praise is closer to a slight
than to a cold commission.

She is similarly fluent and lively in her translation of Heine’s “Anywhere”:

Anywhere you choose to walk,
at any hour, you will see me,
and the more you kick and balk,
the more tenacious I will be.

The same way malice shackles me,
goodness riddles me with doubt;
if you mean to drive me out
you have to fall in love with me.

Shot Silk also includes skillful translations of Rilke and impressive
‘imitations’ of Borges (sigh...when will Borges’ estate loosen its grip and let the best translators wrestle with his brilliant verse?). Let’s hope that Coe follows in the steps of rising formalist translators, such as A.E. Stallings, Aaron Poochigian, Chris Childers and Bill Coyle, and finds the right author for a book-length translation.

Coe stands out due to her coveted ability to jolt the reader with unexpected imagery. The aging diva is a familiar figure, but in ‘Diva, Retired’ the jarring parallel between the aging singer and her shrill cockatoo (petulantly named ‘Beverly Sills’) creates a memorable
meditation not just on mortality, but on the choice to spend one’s limited time on Earth in the arts. In ‘Mise en Abyme,’ a brief and otherwise straightforward poem, the phrase ‘or the quietist code/that bound you’
sends you back to read the poem several more times to avoid missing its nuances. In other words, Shot Silk is proof of the growth of a top poet and of the vibrancy of contemporary formal poetry.

Michael Juster

Last edited by Terese Coe; 12-01-2023 at 01:28 PM. Reason: Bc Angle is no longer online
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  #6  
Unread 03-25-2016, 08:51 AM
Susan McLean Susan McLean is offline
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Those are both excellent reviews that make me want to read the book. I look forward to seeing the rest of the poems.

Susan
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Unread 03-28-2016, 11:34 AM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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Thanks, Susan! Will send today.
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Unread 03-28-2016, 07:25 PM
Wendy Sloan Wendy Sloan is offline
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Terrific reviews, Terese.
And well deserved ...
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  #9  
Unread 03-29-2016, 07:13 PM
Chris O'Carroll Chris O'Carroll is offline
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You are a class act, Terese, and so is D.A. Prince. I'm not surprised she has such a positive (and such an intelligent!) response to your poems.
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Unread 03-31-2016, 10:41 PM
Terese Coe Terese Coe is offline
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Thanks for the kind thoughts, Wendy and Chris! Couldn't agree more about Ms. Prince's intelligence, Chris, though I've never met or conversed with her. If anyone here knows her, please convey my deep gratitude. She gave me a valuable lesson about my work, a purpose that graces the best of critique.
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