Reviews of Blue Positive
Excerpts from Diane Lockward's review of Blue Positive in New Orleans
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
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—
when my son began to use
to describe falling snow, a crescent
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.
Kathleen Kirk reviews Blue Positive in Rhino 2007
This book I love for its baby head cover, clear brown eyes staring back
from a blue-sky background, and for all the motehr, baby, sex, tree,
bird, fruit, family, this-is-real-life poems inside, poems with a
rollicking feel to them, with a richness of color and detail and food,
with lots of ingredients and symptoms -- loose, unwieldy poems and poems
finely wrought, like "Crown of Sonnets for a Son," which also allows
itself to be as unwieldy as it wants. These are poems to love for
their honesty, for phrases like "Fat, fucking hooey" in "Begging to
Differ," about the realities of pregnancy and morning sickness.
Ah, yes, I, too, remember sitting in the waiting room "After Drinking
the Orange Liquid for the Glucose Tolerance Test." This is a book
to read repeatedly, for nourishment or, as in "The Forbidden Fruit," for
We published "I Don't Know What I Want, Only That I'm Desperate For
It" (its title credited to Kim Addonizio) in RHINO 2005, and I still
love that one for its "piece of lime green yarn" and its beaded ankle
bracelet and its powerful, endless yearning. "And I want to be
famous," admits this endearing speaker, "not like pinecones at the end/
of a branch, or socks curled up in a young woman's shoes// but a fame
like yo-yos, Kleenex, the Northern Spye." Sure, I want that, too,
and for the son's dinosaur mobile to hang from the ceiling forever, as
it will, swaying, in this poem.
John Newman reviews Blue Positive in LitRag issue 20
Martha Silano’s new poetry collection centers on life’s stages, and
provides insights into pregnancy, food, birth, motherhood, marriage, and
family. Though rising from everyday life, her work is far from an
ordinary exploration of domesticity. These topics are merely starting
places for Silano’s skillful use of language and imaginative leaps
between seemingly disparate elements.
By placing a premium on active rhythm and sound, Silano succeeds in
making her poems richly evocative. Take, for example, the opening stanza
of “My Words.”
I never liked pachyderm, especially when I learned elephants were
but thick-skinned. Ditto to the dowdily galumphing dromedary
with its root in dromad, Greek for swift.
Or this stanza from “Salvaging Just Might Lead to Salvation.”
& when I come home with a headache the size of New Hampshire
you go oh my sweet sweet square root of three
my tikka masala poppadum chutney-dipped
let me get you a patch of blue a stratocumulus don’t move
Active language propels these poems at a brisk pace. The momentum she
builds in combination with vivid imagery allows her to approach a
subject obliquely while still intriguing and captivating the reader. The
opening lines of the title poem provide yet another example:
To begin with I need to tell you about Phoenix, who’s telling me he’s
he could eat twenty sumo wrestlers, diapers and all. I need to tell you
about these puke-yellow walls, about Ms. Porthoff, how she shines
in this, cluttered chalk-choked room like the Iowa sun in July. . .
By the end of the poem, almost miraculously these unexpected elements
Silano’s poems are often constructed like bouquets with many varieties
of flowers in different colors, shapes and textures. In “Forgetfulness
the Great Bronchial Tree From Which I’m Swinging,” she manages to
include “keys in the yard,” “soupy tomatoes,” “water taxi,” “proof of
insurance recipe for ouefs a la neige,” “Ho Jo’s in Far Rockaway” and
more, arranging them all in the vase of her poem. These dexterous
arrangements show how fluid and carefully considered her poetry can be.
Clearly placing an emphasis on mastering her craft, Silano puts formal
pressure on her writing, often working in tercets or couplets, deftly
allowing form to match content, as she does with the sonnets she
includes. Her voice is mature yet flexible. Though Silano exercises a
rigorous control in her poems that hints at her sympathies for the
current academic trends in poetry, the persona she creates in her poems
is never distant or remote or inaccessible.
A great sense of promise both in the writing and the life lived comes
through in these poems that have the vitality of youth, optimism, and
freshness. Anyone who enjoys seeing life affirmed will find Blue
Positive well worth reading.
Cranky Volume 2 Issue 1 2006
Blue Positive, Martha Silano. Steel Toe
Books, Bowling Green, KY, 2006; and Corset, Shannon Borg. Cherry
Grove Collections, Cincinnati, OH, 2006. Reviewed by Erin Malone.
There are many things I admire about Martha Silano and
Shannon Borg, frequent contributors to Cranky. Some of these are
personal; we share a friendship that goes beyond the bounds of poetry.
But initially it was our interest in writing that brought us together.
Along with two other poets, Kary Wayson and Anna Maria Hong, we make up
a writing group serious about creating new work and challenges for one
Just so you know, I’m not in the habit of writing
reviews of my friends’ books. But Borg and Silano impress me first as
writers. It’s my luck that they inspire me also as people. Here, then,
are my recommendations of their books, newly released.
Blue Positive, Silano’s second collection of
poems, reveals a curious, enthusiastic mind, one that pushes at
the walls to make room for more. A quick cataloging of subjects will
show the author’s range: sex; pregnancy; postpartum psychosis;
motherhood; Eastern European food; all manner of insects, birds, and
fish; and the scientific vocabulary associated with the study of
flowers. Instead of seeming scattered—as this material might in
another’s hands—in Silano’s, it flows.
Poems recalling childhood tie the speaker to both her
parents and her children. Taken respectively from the beginning and
ending sections of the book, here are images of her mother and daughter.
Notice the consonant sounds at work in this memory, the richness of
“rickrack,” “Windex,” “kugel,” “kapusta,” “kale,” and the strong
stresses of “last week’s beets” and “triple baked”:
. . .she presses her foot
to the Singer’s pedal, inching along
the rickrack of a hooded dress
while I doze on the bed,
intermittent surges stirring.
Mother of wisdom—
vinegar/lemon in lieu of Windex,
jelly most un-petroleum.
Matriarch of markets—
resurrecting last week’s beets,
overseer of kugel, kapusta, kale.
Queen of the tooth-chipping
biscotti, triple baked.
—“Mother of Peace”
In the following lines about
her daughter, the repetition of “skyward” almost allows us to see the
baby swung high in the speaker’s arms, and to feel blessed by it:
In relation to me she’s always skyward,
skyward like the popcorn flower and the trillium.
Her tongue, both tibias, hail from the era
of Rosie the Riveter, women named Garnet
and Hazel. She’s fire, all fire, but also
tending toward cymose, cymose and lacy, . . .
Organization of this kind fulfills a collection’s need
for structure at the most basic level. In between parent and child,
you’ll find Silano hammering out the subjects of love, marriage,
motherhood and self. Watching her build is impressive: here is “[Her]
Man with his Fly Reel Eyes,” his “fingerling tongue / Biceps smooth as
skipping stones,” but here is her wry admittance that “there is much in
a marriage / that is cheerless” (“Gravitas”). Here you have the tender
“Crown of Sonnets for a Son”: “Twin pink hyacinths bloomed beside the
fence; you sprouted lungs”; in other poems we find accounts of the mind
turned against itself:
. . . some god’s gotten hold of me,
some god’s squeezed hard the spit-up rag of my soul, rung me
like the little girl who rang our doorbell on
our M&Ms is your baby okay? Why did they take him away?
Lines like these last are the ones that most strike me,
for their honesty and fear, their anger against the self and against
“some god.” The poet does not shy away. In a world where the question of
the day for literary critics seems to be “Can Poetry Matter?,” this work
There’s not enough space here for me to praise more
fully Silano’s funny, smart, sexy language, her dazzling lists and
vocabulary, and the rhythms that sometime necessarily break free from
punctuation in their headlong rush towards all that wants to be said.
This voice rises off the page: “I’m uplifted, // I’ll admit, by the
notion of peering, / ever hopeful, toward a darkening sky” (“What Do You
Do When You’re Blue?”) Blue Positive is a daring and lovely book.