Review of Connie Post’s “Trip Wires”

by Scott Owens

by Connie Post
Finishing Line Press, 2010
ISBN: 1599246252

Good poems often remind us of what we already know and help us look at the essential points of our lives more deeply. Because they often look at things with brutal honesty, good poems also have the ability to scare us. Such is the case with Connie Post’s new book, Trip Wires, in which the best poems are also the most terrifying in their focus on loss and absence. The poem “It Won’t Be Long,” for example, makes clear why no matter how well prepared we think we are for loss, it is never as we expect. Made aware of the pending reality of a loved one’s loss to cancer, the speaker prepares herself:

I find myself on this transient road
. . . . . . . . . .
thinking I might know
what it will be like
when you are gone
. . . . . . . . . .
but when the phone rings
and all the purple vases crash to the floor
I realize I should have known
. . . . . . . . . .
the resounding difference between
the end of dusk
and total darkness

The understated devastation expressed in the concluding contrast of expectation and reality is one of the more harrowing moments I’ve read in poetry in quite some time, and it makes clear that preparation and imagination can never negate the absence that results from loss.

Another sort of devastation is addressed when the speaker of “Undoing a Poem” imagines going backwards to the nothing that existed in the place a poem now exists before the poem was, or perhaps all poems were, written.

Start from the end and peel back meaning
word by word, line by line
undress each stanza
. . . . . . . . . .
until you are alone in a room
. . . . . . . . . .
fall to your knees
grope the fallible floor . . .
until you fall back onto one rusty nail
then bleed backwards into the placenta
to the place where you found yourself
absent of all language

Again, it is absence, in this case the imagined absence of language, that sends a shiver up the readers’ spine.

Perhaps what is most revelatory and frightening about these poems is that they suggest we live amidst loss and absence all the time, not just when someone dies, or when words fail, but every day. The very lifestyles we have chosen to subject ourselves to are fraught with felt but unrecognized, and unaddressed absence. The poem, “One Monthly Donation,” for example, speaks of “the endemic solitude / built by a steady and proportioned life” and suggests “you plow steadily into the tyranny of your days // your needs surround you like a well built fence // enclose the backyards of self made urgencies.”

Poet and critic, Edwin Honig, has commented that, “In a large, mobile industrial society people tend to become indifferent about their ability to think or feel for themselves.” Isolated by the busyness of our daily lives, we need poems like those found in Trip Wires to remind us to be humble, to recognize that we don’t have it all under control, that, in fact, control is largely beside the point and that we are surrounded by the trip wires of loneliness and desolation. We need poems like these to shake us out of our comfort and complacency, to scare us into remembering the primacy of connection with self and others.

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