by P. H.
IT WOULDN`T SURPRISE me to hear that Marlene Cookshaw is writing a collection of short stories, because this hook of poems, The Whole Elephant (Brick, 76 pages, $9.95 paper), uses many fictional techniques, and each of its four sections reads like out-takes or soliloquies from a single story. Characters are featured throughout the poems of a ection and are always named or assigned initials. And the poems are crammed with domestic and fauna/flora details. (I am reminded of Jane Urquharts False Shuffles, and of Rosalind MacPhee`s poem/novel, Maggie.)
Something very casual and friendly happens when techniques from the more expansive narrative forms are applied to the relative confines of lyric poems. One begins to think, giddily, "She can say anything, and it will still fit!" Of course, she can`t, and it wouldn`t. Of course, Cookshaw doesn`t: these are not kitchensink poems -- they are carefully built per stores and greenhouses that are also jungles of daily emotion. As in the best novels and stories, this complexity of texture has an honesty that glows equally but differently from the glow of clarity in bare haiku:
Half up one stairway shes blocked by the old
descending They don`t see her She backs down
five steps, glimpses over the old man`s pearly
Nick`s broad back beside the duck decoys
The old hands join on the forgotten parcel
now opened: a goldfish in the plastic bag
No doubt there are "poetic" elements sacrificed by such a style as this. The seemingly arbitrary line breaks often seem to save a word for the next line as if it were A surprise with power, when usually it is only the last word in the phrasing. But then, these poems are less structured performance pieces than they are an eloquent salvaging of "people in their lives/and the Sounds." And that (I am paraphrasing the last words in the book) seems enough. That seems pretty good.