Unknowne Land

Elena Rivera, Author Kelsey Street Press $10 (55p) ISBN 978-0-932716-53-8
A new book prize from Kelsey St. press honors Francis Jaffer, the Bay Area poet, feminist and co-founder of innovative woman's writing magazine How(ever), who died last year. Rivera's debut makes a worthy first honoree, building on the work of poets like Susan Howe and Kathleen Fraser (who selected the book), and ""[t]ravelling/ in a felucca through/ a shade called `America.' "" The four elements--fire, earth, water, and air--respectively shape the book's first four sections, and the final section, the culmination of the narrator's poetic and personal journey through the book, is organized around ""The Sphere."" Each projects the traumas of a developing selfhood, marked by dislocation and gender oppression: ""the child I had been eclipsed by ideas and beliefs/ so solid, so grounded that I became a somber shade / a weary, lusterless eye/ sojourning in a foreign land threshed with guts."" The often archaic diction (""Who will lie with him to preserve the seed of the father?"") and lush lists (""corundum, carnelian, granite"") are familiar attempts at defamiliarization, and tone often remains too long in stylized drama. But the narrative's progression through the elemental sections is well-done, and the tension builds--""I COULDN'T I ANYTHING I""--as the poet seemingly heads toward self-exinction, ""A fade out on the Scibe."" Readers will await the well-earned return of a second book. (June)
Reviewed on: 05/01/2000
Release date: 05/01/2000
Genre: Fiction
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