There are two situations I don’t want to be in when I have plans to do a book review. Situation 1 – strongly disliking a book, which IS NOT the case here and Situation 2 – loving a book which IS the case here. When a book works really, really well how can I add to the conversation about said book? Well, I can at least tell you a bit about it, and encourage you to pick up your own copy so here goes.
Charlotte Pence’s chapbook The Branches, the Axe, the Missing is a prize-winning collection released by Black Lawrence Press. The individual poems are untitled like branches off of a poetic chapbook tree. And like a good functioning piece of plant life, the individual poems connect well to each other throughout the collection.
Also physically this is simply a nice book to look at: slim, terrific cover art, and elegantly designed.
Not to belabor the point about branches, but Pence does an excellent job of playing off the different root meanings of words because this is a book that is – to me – about reaching into the primal space of language as the speaker of the poems tries to reconcile the reality of wood and yet the ever presence of fire as well as the axe.
Does that sound complex? I hope it does and it doesn’t because these poems are layered (ringed like an old tree), but in a fulfilling way. They ask you to re-read them for their beautiful language, but also for the extended metaphors and meanings below the initial bark. Here is one example from page 26: “Her father is a loss . Is the wood being / cut down and the cutter of that wood.” I found myself talking back to these poems which is yet another way I know I truly love something I’m reading. I want to join in a conversation with the poet.
I have so many short notes to myself on individual poems from this collection that it is difficult for me to pinpoint a “favorite.” It may be the one I quoted above or it might be the very last one, but I won’t quote that one because I want you to pick up this collection and disappear for a while in Pence’s poetic forest.