Hunger for Salt (Review Series)

Hunger for Salt (Review Series)


Hunger for Salt

Poetry for the End of Seasons
Hunger for Salt, Elaine Fletcher Chapman

Autumn-summer cusp—a breath—a good moment to read “September Begins,” from Elaine Fletcher Chapman’s debut collection, Hunger for Salt. “[O]ne psalm, picked randomly / this morning, one hundred and thirty one: / O, lord, my heart is not lifted up… / I have calmed and quieted my soul/ one poem, not random / Whitman: observing a spear of summer grass / at summer’s end…” This is a collection full of cusps, “iridescent silence” poems, as Chapman writes in “Another Attempt at Silence.” Sometimes it is the silence after loss, after “the violent haze of sea-torched marsh…months after the hurricane.” When the poet calls these pauses “alone but not lonely,” the statement feels earned; even as many of them express yearning, hunger, they feel like the product of a soul “calmed and quieted” with steady intention. The one-room studio apartment in the wake of a divorce, for example, rechristened “Holy place of contemplation.” These are poems, too, for deciphering meaning in the end of seasons, looking at and asking questions of the artifacts (or absences) left behind. Why this motley handful of objects: burst pipe, orange peel, Prometheus? Or how is it that a vicious wind blows a single gull’s wing to shore, still “intact…no blood, a clean break”? Chapman draws on imagery both Christian (labyrinths, liturgy, lectio divina) and Buddhist (Patacara, padmasana), with a spare grace influenced by poets like Basho, whose name is invoked more than once. And the pauses, the poems seem to imply, are necessary if we are to notice our lives. Early in the collection, the speaker’s daughter comes out as a lesbian; dozens of poems later, the daughter has grown, is marrying a woman, and the speaker is reading Sappho at the wedding. Time passes whether we pause for the cusps or not. “In a minute the rose wood incense will burn down, / ashes left in a line. Later / I will leave the house, return past dark / to discover an entire river running through this room.”

Reviewed by June Gervais

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