Lisa Brognano is the author of the novels, In the Interest of Faye (Golden Antelope, 2017) and A Man for Prue (Resplendence, 2017), as well as two poetry books, The Willow Howl (Nixes Mate, 2017) and The Copper Weathervane (Luchador, 2020). Her poems and short fiction have appeared in national and international literary journals. Brognano holds a master’s degree in English and another in Fine Art. She lives in New York with her husband.
Poetry of Dirtspell by Maia Carlson
Review of Dirtspell by Maia Carlson (Spartan Press, 2019)
Maia Carlson’s Dirtspell is a botanist’s journal, clogged with life’s mulberries and orchids. My mother taught me how to smell the earth quickening and we see that in the toxic science surrounding this well-crafted book. Carlson is not only gardening in front of us, but she’s trying to overcome something, too, by digging her hands deep in the soil. Imagery wells up from that as we are introduced to gods, plant species, and siblings, parents and grandparents. We are invited to understand the Stratiomydae or solider flies as well as the Empididae and Asilidae.
Illness poems, scattered throughout, help Carlson deal with loss, a change of vision, and the things one must conquer in life. We build as we sketch she tells us. I call my biggest scars my shadows. The hurt in her words is always made suppler with an earthy, dewy brilliance—tree canopies and blooming flowers, the stuff of roots that go deep. But there is always emptiness, death, fear, and numbness to overcome. The tribulations she makes the reader face are sacramental in nature, and she calls on gods often to clarify her own emotions to grapple with the why of everything.
Naturally, a search for identity goes on in the work. People get lost in relationships, in time, in space, underground, above ground. Carlson tries to sort it all out, scattering the seeds of thought in all directions. Life’s fragility is her utmost concern. She recognizes the glass houses we all live in, a coil tightly woven. Will it come undone? Do we play God too often? Will the real Omnipotent shake the earth in anger for our efforts to control the items beneath the clouds?
And yet, so much birth happens in Dirtspell. The endless planting and nurturing cannot go unnoticed, right alongside death. There’s no famine in me; no howl at my core. Still, she recognizes hummingbird feet clenched on the branches. There is a definite rebuilding of what’s lost. The reference to a mortar and pestle is how she grinds down the ingredients, the drugs, the fine powder, and makes a palatable solution for the reader’s healing. It’s a world drowning in itself, one that needs to be hauled up from the ocean’s depths.
It only makes sense that some of the poems are prayers. Light vs. Darkness. Women slay dragons because they are strong. The pressure changes when you move from happiness/ to hurt. The complexity of emotions whirl like tendrils. Emotions are a wolf, leashed and muzzled by logic. The poet wants to let go of her preconceived notions so that she can feel again, and we take that journey with her. Of course, she talks about unpleasant things, using rats for a visual, calling out the scars we all have to demonstrate how tricky the wounds are.
None of this could be accomplished without the “hands” she mentions so often, working the soil, holding someone else’s, comforting her father at a difficult time. It all becomes wayward. But there is forgiveness, rawness, crystals, storms to provide light in the aftermath. There’s a taproot that runs through the center of the work, and, much like the umbilical cord she mentions, the reader draws nourishment from it.
With so much blooming, we see the phases wind down. Sectioned in four parts, the book begins in Summer and ends in Winter, where the harshness is somewhat expected. The world can leave itself beneath your fingernails and in this collection it does. There is such a thing as too much truth and we want to believe her when she says it because the nudity of self cannot be escaped. We seek one last glimpse of the crown of green with its soft/ living edges. What we find is a continuous thunder of heritage. The reader doesn’t mind being fed a clean, white anger, for the same reason he/she enjoys the natural inheritance she shares with us, the very beautiful tending of a common garden. We oversee with her how the world is going, maybe where it should change, how it all got so personal, and a few things in between.