With Rotten Perfect Mouth, Eva H.D. leaps onto Canada’s poetry stage as an unknown, the book imparting her first published poetry. It would have been a risk for Mansfield Press, had H.D.’s voice been less strong, her imagery less vivid and haunting, or her sense of what troubles us less exact.
From train graffiti to the history of chewing gum, H.D. focuses with keen precision on the magnificent, rotten details of daily living.
From “Even the Lies:”
Even the lies I tell myself are sometimes true.
Listen to the one about the quiet street:
sometimes that street is quiet. The children
are sleeping. The parents are knitting their
limbs together, fast asleep, the dog asleep, the TV
flailing in silence. Sometimes the quiet street
is quiet. Sometimes your father is a man who
has accomplished something.
H.D.’s poetry is cast with thoughtful emotion, her poems reflecting astutely on human motivations and the thoughts behind the images people from various backgrounds and in different settings try to project. H.D.’s lens often zooms in uncomfortably close on the visceral details of her characters’ thousand tiny heartaches.
You are lying on your chin, eyes inked-in & empty,
bassclef backbone a riddled mess. Every time you move
your mouth , something explodes:
you’ve grown giddy with comicbook
apocalypses, apoplectic with ampersands and
nautilus swirls. I ask you to exit the frame,
say something other than KAPOW!
I spin a Technicolor jumble of jailbreak blueprints.
Among the deceptively loose, swirling structure of many of H.D.’s poems, formally structured poetry, particularly sestinas, sneak in as a surprise at first. The innate repetition a sestina offers, however, lends itself perfectly to H.D.’s looping style. Where structure does not offer the scaffold, she creates the same effects herself, through an already masterful application of internal rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and yet more repetition of words and phrases.
H.D.’s use of rhythm and cadence, nudged further with well-considered but discomfiting line breaks, builds to a type of cant in many of the poems, rocking us back and forth, close and then away again from the emotional rawness and bitter truths of the scenes she sets. The lolling momentum can become nearly too much at points. But the linguistic discomfort it creates just underscores the emotional discomfort elicited by the poem’s content.
From “Safe in the Woods:”
Often, the most terrifying
events are done before
you even get a chance
to be terrified. Maybe ten
minutes or twenty years
down the road of
fifths and spliffs in
& gaptoothed factories
blackouts & over
doses like coins,
then feel it,
a queasy wash
your skin, that hard heavy
blush on your lungs.
Rotten Perfect Mouth does suffer from some inconsistency, but with such a clear poetic scope trained on the viscera of living, it will be worth watching what H.D. does next.
Anita Dolman is a contributing editor for Arc Poetry Magazine. Her poetry and fiction have recently appeared in Matrix Magazine, the anthology Triangulation: Lost Voices, On Spec and Grain. Her second poetry chapbook, Where No One Can See You, was published by AngelHousePress (Ottawa, 2014). She is on Twitter @ajdolman.
ARC GETS YOU UNCOMFORTABLY CLOSE TO POETRY!