Magazine article National Forum

New Numbers / They Sing to Her Bones

Magazine article National Forum

New Numbers / They Sing to Her Bones

Article excerpt

JOSIE KEARNS. New Numbers. Kalamazoo, MI: New Issues Press, 2000. 57 pages. $12.00.

JOY MANESIOTIS. They Sing to Her Bones. Kalamazoo, MI: New Issues Press, 2000. 79 pages. $12.00.

"Who breathes on stone, who makes the rules?"

-May Sarton, from Italian Garden

In 1986 Alicia Suskin Ostriker asked this question in Stealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in America: What happens when women "begin to write with a freedom and boldness that no generation of women in literary history has ever known"? Now, some fifteen years later, this query may serve as a cultural and artistic benchmark: In what ways has the newest generation of contemporary women writers gone beyond the "connected motifs," as suggested by Ostriker and other scholars, of oppression and marginality? In short, have we claimed our half of the poetic universe? And, more importantly, does anyone care if we have succeeded or failed in the attempt?

Two contemporary women poets, Josie Kearns and Joy Manesiotis, have written books that brave the silence which often marginalizes women's lives. Indeed, they have written collections of poems that celebrate - often with stubborn grace and fierce love - the need for connection and that caution us about the psychic death that comes from a refusal to connect. Beyond the lament of loss and nothingness which was a fundamental twentieth-century compulsive literary obsession - these poets offer us a vision of what can be and of what should be: the possible, the personal, and the perceptible virtue found in ordinary lives.

Josie Kearns's poems in New Numbers have a compassionate authority. The poet seeks a fresh way to calculate the heft and weight of the heart's confusion and the mind's longing. The title poem, which opens the collection, does not flinch when acknowledging the black hole of emotions toward which human existence is often pulled.

She writes:

Because it is possible for every voice

And every word of every voice

And every letter of every word of every voice

And every part of every letter of every word of every voice

to pass into nothingness.

Elsewhere, Kearns speaks of "the personal number of those put aside," such as a woman who "wore/ her dead mother's shoes/everywhere" ("Lumaroon"), the "ex-spouse that reknits a bad marriage" ("Leethum"), and "the homeless man" who "reaches up, beckons or waves" ("Callarum").

Moreover, much like the previous generation of women poets, many of whom labored to create a new language with which to explore the female imagination, Kearns endeavors to construct a "new math" with which to examine the matrix of mind and heart. …

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