Book Review by Steve Henn
At their best, Tina Andry’s quiet, spare, powerful poems in ransom notes seek to strike a chord in the heart, to move us, and much of the chapbook does so successfully. There are more poems that hit than miss in this chapbook that one must learn to read slowly, methodically, experimenting with the rhythm of lines often one or two words long.
The opening poem, “the dedication,” simply reads “if you ask me if it’s about you / i’ll lie,” indicating that Andry intends to lead us into a private conversation, an exercise in memory between poet and lost love. She further sets the stage in the second and third poem, where we learn they did something “… garish and obscene / modern art hung / in a wasp home,” and where we discover the speaker and the spoken to are both women. This chap feels very personal, and despite the fact that most poets manipulate the events of their lives when using them as fodder for poems, the poet/speaker distinction seems neither distinct nor interesting. All these poems are in one voice. They are one lament, one side of a conversation, and by the end of the book we find that they climax in a tough yet tender affirmation of autonomy.
One gets the feel of the poems over a few reads; certain lines jump and sing even as the voice seems so simple, so quiet. “Some of the time / my violin body / plays only / slightly / less than it gets / played” works as an effective admission of hurt and culpability. Locusts chide “it’s the end times / it’s the end times” as the poet spends a night indoors of a screen window. Elsewhere, “southern belles” are “little dolls whose eyes / close only when laid / on their backs.” Not every poem in this collection strikes a nerve for me, but the ones that do have that ineffable quality that great, spare poems often have. They just sound right.
There’s enough to unpack in this collection, and it’s readily unpackable. Andry doesn’t overdo it. The book comes to a brilliant climax in the final poem, in an appropriate sense of healing for a relationship that obviously made its mark on the poet – or speaker, if you prefer. The closer I read Andry’s poems, the more often I saw hints of the great care she took with the work. The sharp details but the elliptical refusal to mention everything, the single word or mark of punctuation that fits perfectly. The chap goes quickly, so read it again to get the feel of it, and read it when you’re in a contemplative mood.