Monday, September 28, 2009

stains: early poems by Lori A. May

Book Review by Zinta Aistars

• Paperback: 88 pages

• Publisher: Bohemian Steel Press, 2009

• Price: $15.95

• ISBN-10: 0973582405

• ISBN-13: 978-0973582406

Brave and confident soul, who is willing to put into lasting print—however lasting print is these days—her early poems. Lori A. May titles this collection, interestingly enough, stains. It is a slim collection of mostly haiku-like verses, short, sweet but with bite, quick images and passing sensibilities of a woman’s (sometimes, a girl’s) life.

May is known more for her fiction writing, suspense and crime fiction, including Moving Target and the Walden Books bestseller, The Profiler. She is editor at Marick Press, a high-quality small press in Michigan, and founding editor of The Ambassador Poetry Project. With stains, May is letting her already established fans join with new fans by opening a window on a new facet of her writing talent—as a poet.

New, that is, by about a decade. The poems track back over years, and indeed, the opening poem, “Portrait,” seems to be just that, but of a girl. A very uncomfortable one, in pink taffeta:

ribbons choke
my throat
sucking me into
pink taffeta

polished shoes
reflecting up my skirt

stockings laced
with innocent flowers
halting personality
with itchy fabric

Having grown up as something of a tomboy myself, I sympathize. I continue to sympathize through the next poem, titled “Brat,” as the portrait of a girl evolves into a young woman ready to test her limits: “…determined/to push free.” May expresses a fun spirit in her early poetry, and more often than occasionally hits the mark, too, with sophistication that shows the evolvement of the writer. I find myself underlining fresh phrasing and lines such as “the winter of my skin” in the poem, “Summer,” and “the kinks/rocked hard/while he sucked my youth/through parted lips” in “Mustang,” a poem of adolescence and hot hormones.

In the poem “Sleep,” May captures what most women want when we speak of intimacy. While the heat of a youthful kiss, leaning against a Mustang and sneaker skidding across a bumper has its allure, in this poem we see the girl growing into a woman who longs for her mate to sleep with her. “I said sleep,” the poet emphasizes, and the poem describes the intimacy of two bodies in utmost comfort, curled one into the other, resting.

May then captures the intimacy of writing, poet and page in seduction: “Blank page spread before me/Like legs, limber and longing/Looking for identity./Painted words lick up the white/Resting in their newfound home./You are a work in progress.”

As the reader nears the end of the collection, there is a subtle change in style. Words become that much more spare, more carefully chosen, closer to target. We sense the expanding wisdom of a growing poet, an evolving woman. “The lack/of expectation/does not/guarantee/protection from/disappointment.” Titles hint at deepening experience and understanding. “War” tells of difficulties in a relationship: “you deny/confrontation/and ignore/response/act in silence/to mask/insecurity.” Love has grown more complex, with baggage and history. In “DNA,” May writes: “I want to find the one place/No one else has touched you/One place no one has left prints/Or memories,” and with these simple, bare bone words, nails the longing we all have as adults to find new territory—in ourselves, in each other, the still sacred.

Stains is a pleasing collection of poetic moments that have stained the poet with lasting memory. It is worth reading while leaving a coffee stain of one’s own, lingering, rereading, remembering … and anticipating the next phase of May’s poetic evolution.

~Zinta Aistars for The Smoking Poet, Fall 2009