by Martha Silano
Check out Martha's interview with Writer's Digest's Robert Lee Brewer!
Excerpts from Diane Lockward's review of Blue Positive in New Orleans Review 2008
As the cover hints, Silano’s predominant obsession is motherhood. We have in this country a history of motherhood poems going back to Anne Bradstreet, but while Silano might be seen as following this minor tradition, there is nothing traditional or minor about her poems. Surely no poet has ever given us such an inside view of pregnancy or described it with such unique and delightful figures.
In “Begging to Differ” Silano does an about-face and now disputes the idea that pregnancy is nine months of anticipatory joy. “Fat, fucking hooey,” she says to that old myth, then lists the nosebleeds, heartburn, migraines, nausea, and six-month stiff neck she endured. For emphasis, she delivers a volley of alliteration, one of her signature talents: “She didn’t dance; she galloped. She didn’t / do-see-do, hokey-pokey, or hullabaloo; // unhaltingly, she hammered; didn’t divide / but devoured…blow torch in one hand, // jack hammer in the other. Constantly flailing / two feisty fists.” She ushers in the baby on a stream of t and r sounds, telling us that the child remained in utero “till she got too big // to make her turns, to run her rumbling rudders, / till it was time for her to make her raucous, ruby-red debut.”
Silano also confronts that part of pregnancy that until recently women weren’t supposed to talk about or couldn’t talk about because they didn’t know what it was, that is, post-partum depression. In “Crazy” she records the terrifying months that followed the birth of her first child when she was certain she’d “been shot, killed, sent though the long, slow / stove of cremation….” She both reassures and frightens the reader.
Again Silano embraces contrary emotions, later finding herself on the flip side of such despair. In “Song for a Newborn,” one of the collection’s finest poems, she employs the catalog, another of her signature talents, to praise each part of her baby’s precious body. At the same time she deftly juggles a spate of similes. Speaking directly to her “Double Thick Pork Chop,” she says, “Bless your arms which hang, / outstretched, in sleep, / as if conducting an orchestra / a tune I’ll never know. / Bless your capillaries / like the roots of Early Girls, / your large intestine like dozens / of miniature knackwursts.” She ends with a blitz of metaphors: “for now I’ll have to settle, / my Sugar-Cane Showered Scallop, my Swimming Angel, / for your smile which says Braised Chicken, / Cilantro Dumplings, Romaine’s Most Tender Hearts.” Has any baby ever been presented as this delicious?
Another of Silano’s obsessions is the home. She peppers the collection with poems about food—Polish dishes, beans and rice with hot sauce, pears, cabbage, Phad Thai. She brings us right to the table in “Ingredients,” grabbing us first by the ear: “In one ear the crunch of kapusta—in the other the sizzle / of bacala.” And then the nose: “Through one nostril the deep, dark sting // of hot oil meeting garlic—through the other the steam / of cheddar cheese suffusing mashed potato peaks.” And finally, the tongue: “Some nights our burps told tales of halushki… fried with buttery cabbage.…Some nights the basil in pasta siciliana / sweetened our breath till dawn.…”
Clearly this poet revels in language. She seems to find words as scrumptious as her culinary dishes, serving up one feast after another and savoring the strangeness of words, their meanings, their roots, their associations with people, the irony of them, the sounds of them, all of which she captures in “My Words”:
I never liked pachyderm, especially when I learned elephants are anything
but thick-skinned. Ditto to the dowdily galumphing dromedary
with its root in dromad, Greek for swift.
Ones I never considered memorable or strange—
bubble, banana, anemone—bloomed
when my son began to use them
to describe falling snow, a crescent moon,
a cockatiel’s plume. Plum is a terrible
word for a perfect fruit …
Silano beautifully combines tenderness and boldness, gravitas and humor, mastery of craft and invention. Everything in this collection invites us in, then back again. It is full of love and hunger and nourishment and amazement at how baffling, disturbing, and wondrous this life is.
Southeast Review Interviews Martha Silano
Q: Your poem "Forgetfulness the Great Bronchial Tree from Which I'm Swinging," is an ode to forgetfulness. I couldn't help but think of Elizabeth Bishop's "The Art of Losing" when reading this poem, and I notice that you've quoted her earlier in the book: "Should we have stayed at home and dreamed of here? Where should we be today?" Has Bishop been a large poetic influence for you? What is the role of forgetfulness or un-remembering in your work?
Yes, Bishop has been an influence, for sure. I don't think I'm alone in believing "One Art" is one of the greatest poems in the English language. Bishop's work has taught me about paying close attention, about the importance of trusting how you see the world, describing what you see with your own words, in your own voice and style. I remember in grad school when I came across Geography III, it was like I'd dug up a really cool fossil. But I've been influenced by a whole horde of fine writers: Dickinson, Whitman (okay, who hasn't?), Marianne Moore, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Gerald Stern, Albert Goldbarth, William Stafford, Sharon Olds, David Wagoner, Heather McHugh, Dorianne Laux, and it goes on . . .
For full interview, click here: http://www.southeastreview.org/2008/silano.php