Agnes in the Sky

by Di Brandt,
ISBN: 0888011504

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The Healed Heart
by Rhea Tregebov

Di BRANDT IS A POET both engaging and engaged. Agnes in the sky, her second book, continues Brandt`s project of examining her Mennonite background with formidable courage and honesty. In this book she takes on the abuse she herself encountered as a child and that of other women, and attempts to work through the loss and pain to under standing -- and even to some newly defined form of love. In an act of extraordinarily sym pathetic morality, she manages to write an expose of her abuse by her father and to write in wonder and love of his competence and healing power: "my father / grinning built us the world his quick / hands could fix anything there was fire in them my fathers rough hands" ("my father`s hands"). Brandt`s strength is in the integrity of her voice: in the poem "my father`s hands," as in the powerful "nonresistance or, love Mennonite style," in which she expands the theme of child abuse first explored on a personal level in "i`m finding myself again in the healed heart" into a hiring and profound examination of the theological and cultural basis of abuse. "Nonresistance" moves from a dark burnout to an unflinching, mature insight into the emotions of children abused by a loved parent: -you understand how love is like a knife a daughter is not a son & the only way you will he saved is by submitting quietly in -,,our grandfathers house your flesh smouldering in the darkened room (is You love your enemy deeply unwillingIy & full of shame. What adds to the strength of this piece is the poets ability to appropriate biblical diction and its rhetorical cadence for her own means -- a difficult task that is not always managed as successfully in other poems in the book. While the power of these fully realized poems make Agnes in the sky worth reading, Brandt does rely exclusively on this voice, And when it falls, when the colloquial becomes too Casual, when lines are merely tossed off, there,,, not much to fall back on. As in her first book, Brandt shuns many of the poetic tools that add impact and intensity to poetry, using generally simple, straightforward diction, an arbitrary line uninflected by punctuation or other grammatical markers, and often omitting poem titles. I have much sympathy with her project because Of its validation and valorization of common speech and, by implication, of common, unprivileged experience, but there are pitfalls to this aesthetic and Brandt seems especially Vulnerable to them. Some of the poems (in particular the love lyrics) are mere sketches that fall flat. While she is capable, in "already there is no going back," of a marvelous line like "you miss the father in Your / bones" the poem is otherwise unremarkable, with lines like the rain fall) warm on your check you stand alone at the world`s edge your soul is worth diamonds your feet are heavy with the weight of it If the reader encountering these line,, has read the rest of the book and has a sense of what "it" is, who and what the father and mother mentioned are, there will he some resonance. But the poem Should not have to rely on such knowledge -- it should convey it. The difficulty With language occurs even in some of the most deeply felt poems. While it is impossible not to be moved by the story in "i`m finding myself again in the healed heart," the language, sadly, does not really succeed as poetry: "i`m / locked frozen with fear i`m too little to understand / fear my whole being trembles with shock." The emotion is there, but it is barely expressed. One has the sense that Brandt is not consistently using the full extent of her powers as a poet. There is often a hurried feeling to the poems, as if they haven`t been fully worked through on the level of language. Perhaps the urgency of her project, the depth of need for giving voice to these crucial subjects, is the source of such hurriedness. Brandt is to be valued for her courage and the honesty of her engagement; I think we can hope with confidence to find its full expression in her next book.

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