Poetry is something that can capture the imagination in a way that novels and other forms of prose cannot. The modernist idea of form following function is certainly applicable to some texts, adding another dimension to the design of a book. But the use of meter and rhyme have the potential to be crafted in such a way that allows readers to intuitively connect with the poem. This is the quality that makes you hold your breath as you savor the lines that resonate with your own experience.
Karin Gustafson’s Going on Somewhere certainly has such moments. A collection of often poignant verse, Going on Somewhere taps into the many different emotions that a person experiences as they progress through the phases of life.
I will admit that I had a rather difficult time getting into the book– I don’t know if this was because I just wasn’t in a poetry mood or if the pace was a bit off– but once I got into it at around page 13 I finished the collection in 2 sittings (only because sleep pulled me away). After reading Charles Bukowski not too long ago I was immediately hit with how different his and Gustafson’s work are. When it comes to narration you have 2 writers who are on different ends of the spectrum: Bukowski is very narrative and Gustafson spends her time embracing the moment and the emotions it contains. Though I adore Bukowski’s work, and find it very entertaining, I found that Gustafson was able to strike a deeper chord with me, emotionally.
Going on Somewhere combines delicate yet subtle rhymes and forms with vivid images, creating poetry whose meaning stands above its meter. After reading several of the poems I had to go back to even see if they rhymed, as they flowed so effortlessly that I wasn’t sure whether or not Gustafson had written within a limited meter. This, to me, is wonderful writing, because Gustafson has manipulated her words in a way that lets them overshadow the rhyme schemes that contain them. The best word to describe this would be “natural.” She is a natural writer whose thoughts naturally translate wonderfully into poetry.
Though I love the writing that the book contains, there are two things that bugged me about the book itself. First: the illustrations. They aren’t high resolution and they look a bit faded–this didn’t mesh well with the crispness of the writing, the clear images that it already projected. Additionally, the illustrations didn’t add anything to the book, they just distracted from the writing and made it seem kind of childish (though the content is certainly anything but). Had they been left out of the book altogether it would have been easier to read.
Second: the organization of the book (come to think of it, this might be what caught me off guard when I first started reading). Though I’m sure that great care was taken to order the poems in a way that created balance, it wasn’t intuitive to me. Several of the poems discuss sexual issues and their raw language stood out too much amongst the rest of the work. Now, I don’t think that these poems should have been left out, they add an important dimension to the collection, but I think that they should have been sequenced in a way that didn’t juxtapose them with some of the more innocent pieces. This juxtaposition could be sending a message, but the interruption in the flow of the book was too noticeable–even if it was there to prove a point.
Two of my favorite pieces in the collection are “The Last Thing” and “Thin Birthday.” “The Last Thing” brought me to tears and I have read it several times in just the last couple of days. “Thin Birthday” was also heart wrenching, but in a different way. I think that these two poems showcase where Gustafson’s strength as a writer lies: in the delicate balance between emotions. These two poems are both sad, but they are sad in different ways. Capable of fine tuning the differences between poignant and bittersweet, Gustafson has talent when it comes to invoking emotion.
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.