Quote of the Day
Carcanet Press is our most courageous publisher. When you look at what they have brought out since their beginnings, it makes so many other houses seem timid or merely predictable.
Subscribe to our mailing list
Review of Extended Family, John Whale, Stand Magazine 8(1)
Linda Chase's Extended Family engages in making strange of our familiar experiences. In a rich and extensive collection of poems she examines - as her title promises - personal identity through relationships. She begins with some of the key experiences of her Long Island childhood and ends with a daring sequence of love poems which chart erotic excitement and disappointed break-down. Chase's lyrics focus with peculiar, often disturbing objectivity on the ceremonies of the self: farewells, greetings, kisses, and other physical communions. In typical fashion, a poem entitled 'Do You Think the Snow Will Stick?' ends with a repetition which suddenly adds a worrying intensity to what has hitherto been prosaic: '[...] You kiss me./ Cheek, mouth, cheek, mouth'. In the 'Geography of Goodbyes' we're told 'Kisses were random, not from everyone./ One woman aimed for his mouth/ (I did too and found his lips/ willing and a little apart)/ but I noticed he turned and she missed.' Here Chase's observational intensity transforms documentary detail into the disturbed view of the outsider. Where we had been expecting innocence she introduces a strangely incongruous eroticism. As the collection progresses, the threat of the erotic lying within the prosaic is developed further. In 'Restaurant', for example, an apparently loving gesture, another ordinary communion of bodies, is inflected with menace and projected back onto the gaze of those watching:Previous review of 'Extended Family'... To the 'Extended Family' page...
People are eating and passing food across this table
upon which you have immobilised my right hand
against the wood with your own firm left hand.
Such inversions are frequent in this collection. Intimacy and objectivity are presented not so much as polar opposites as proximate to each other. One easily turns into the other and the effect is to put into question the surety of the relationships and social conventions which attach to them. In 'Ourselves', 'lusting' is described almost immediately as a 'lonely pact' and the poem ends with the stark simplicity of 'I for myself/ you for yourself'. Even starker in this respect is the effectively short 'The Same as What?:
while you were sleeping
I used some parts of your body
to do things to myself.
You didn't wake
and they felt very nice,
but it's not really the same thing.
Chase's poems are most effective in this stark mode, a mode which, as here, posits the self as strangely alone in its confessional objectivity. In terms of form, they are the most successful when deploying uncanny repititions of the ordinary in order to expose its vulnerability:
'Death in the Family'
We are all quiet again.
Until yesterday, the
I phone, you phone, he and she phone
part of our lives was almost all of our lives.
We told one another all the same things
in slightly different words.
We confirmed, affirmed,
reaffirmed and then declared
I did, you did, he and she did.
We had our roles to play
and we played our roles
to the death - the mother, father
sister, brother, baby roles
which took our breath away.
I love our family more today than ever
I imagined, you imagined,
he and she imagined.
Hush, now. This is our family.
The Carcanet Blog Let's Gimbal! read more Carcanet New Poetry Showcase: The Audience Writes Back read more John Gallas: A Little Andaluciad read more Carcanet Poetry Showcase: 30th April read more The Manchester Writing Competition 2013 read more Six Sixty-Six: Infinity by Gabriel Josipovici read more
We thank the Arts Council England for their support and assistance in this interactive Project.
This website ©2000-2013 Carcanet Press Ltd