Have you read: Poet writes of life’s victories, defeats
“The Caution of Human Gestures” by Ann Keniston
Ann Keniston is a poet with a strong and accessible voice. Among critics, her style is known as “confessional,” much in the manner of Emily Dickenson and others. She does not seem to object to this labeling, but I think for many of us, “confessional” still calls to mind versions of “True Confessions” and that is not what she is about in my view.
Many of these poems deal directly or indirectly with events in her life, from her birth the year Emily Dickenson’s Complete Poems was published up to the recent past. In “Stigmata” she speaks of her and her husband’s unsuccessful efforts to have a child:
“Twenty-four months of attempting to invoke
a third body, ghost
daughter, figurine thin enough to slide easily out
from where our bodies joined
we were worshiping failure
every time we lay down on the bed’s white slab … “
Keniston, 45, teaches English and creative writing at the University of Nevada, Reno, and has twice been the recipient of the Academy of American Poets prize and has been published in a number of poetry magazines. Thanks to the Writer’s Series sponsored by Lake Tahoe Community College, some of us were introduced to her work at her reading at the college on June 13.
This is the first collection of her poems to be published, and we can only hope there will be more. She speaks openly of life’s disappointments and life’s small victories. And about family:
“What startles me is the exactitude
with which each of my sister’s requests
locates the periphery of what
our father’s comfortable with, then pushes
past it so slightly that he grows pensive
then voices his refusal formally.”
She also tells us of her reactions to people and objects as she encounters them, reactions we can readily share. Thus in “Poem” she says:
“It might take as it subject the man I saw last night
in the subway station, grasping a six- or seven-
year-old boy to his chest, then over his shoulder, then
awkwardly in front of him while the ragged-
shirted, dark-faced, long-haired child groaned,
then shrieked without making a human sound …”
Keniston says she has been writing poetry since she was a child, that a grade school teacher got her started, so we can guess that these lines from “A Lesson” are not only about a child learning to crawl:
“It’s why there is pathos in each victory,
his laughter already touched Ð isn’t it? Ð
with self-knowledge, though he’s flushed with joy
at what he’s come to through sheer persisting.”
I hope you will persist in looking for a copy of these fine poems.
You will be well rewarded.
– Jerome Evans is an art dealer, freelance writer, recreation advocate and avid reader.