Il Cuore: The Heart: Selected Poems (1970-1995)

By Clippinger, David | Chicago Review, Fall 1997 | Go to article overview

Il Cuore: The Heart: Selected Poems (1970-1995)


Clippinger, David, Chicago Review


Kathleen Fraser. il cuore: the heart: Selected Poems (1970-1995). Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1997.

A collection of selected poems often unveils a subtle continuity of thematic issues that spans a poet's career but might otherwise go undetected. Consequently, a "selected" poems often suggests by its very nature a trajectory of development-thematic, formal, and philosophical-that offers a fresh perspective on the poet. Such is the case with Kathleen Fraser's il cuore: the heart, a culling of poems selected by Fraser from her twelve previous books. As Fraser's collection makes clear, her poetry has been and continues to be preoccupied with the relationship of loss, love, and the act of writing poetry. In essence, Fraser's poetry writes against grief and attempts to counter loss via the concomitant aspects of language and form. As she writes at one point, "Love has always been the motivating force in my life" (84), and that love confronts loss with the power of memory. What makes il cuore: the heart so fascinating are the ways and means by which Fraser has approached loss and love and especially how those two issues are manifest in and by the subjective and formal aspects of her poetry.

The earlier poems are deeply personal: grief and loss occur almost exclusively within the circumference of the subjectivity of the speaker. For example in "The History of My Feeling" (a response to Frank O'Hara?) from What I Want ( 1974), Fraser describes moments of personal emotional poignancy:

I knew clearly that I hated you

for entering me profoundly, for taking me inside you, for husbanding me, claiming all that I knew and did not know, you letting me go from you

into this unpredictable and loneliest of weathers

The force of the poem is deeply confessional but purposefully so, as Fraser explains in "this.notes. / new year": You are against confession, because it's embarrassing. I want to embarrass you. To feel your confusion. Someone's rhythm sneaking in again. Sharing a language. The osmosis of rubbing up. Communing. (40)

The poetic intensity confronts the (socially) acceptable in order to push towards a shared "language"-a sense of identification-or what she calls an "osmosis of rubbing up." The earlier poems are significant for their clarity of language and image as well as the emotional depths of the narrative, but when Fraser extends this propensity for the "confessional" to a broader social landscape, her poetry acquires a more pervasive force. That is, when her poetry "rubs up" against an always already present buried in the past, when the confusion is extended to include the flux and tensions of cultural history, and when someone else's "rhythm sneaking in" is shown to mask ideological tensions, her poetry achieves an intensity that reveals her genuine talents.

The transition from the deeply confessional to a wider social lens is evident in certain passages of il cuore. For example, Fraser writes in "Five Letters Written from One Window, San Gimignano, May 1981":

My writing is changing. One might sometimes think I was returning to the style of work I did twenty years ago, except that my line is surer and my eye more exacting. Still, I am just as uncertain and resistant, at the beginning of each work attempted, as I ever was. In fact, my bursts of confidence are fewer, my self-doubt greater. I'm trying to find a way to include these states of uncertainty...the shifting reality we've often talked aboutfragments of perception that rise to the surface, almost inadvertently, and come blurting out when one has lived in intense desire and frustration. [ellipses in the original] (86)

Seemingly personal states of "uncertainty" and "fragments of perception" are mirrored by "shifting reality" and an overarching sense of indeterminay that originates outside of the self but in which the self also is complicit. Desire/frustration; confidence/uncertainty; fragments/reality. …

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