Rachel Adams, What Is Heard, Red Bird Chapbooks, N3105 Elm Lane, Pepin, WI 54759, 2013, paperback, 26 pp., $10.00. redbirdchapbooks.com
This is a modest, slim chapbook but beautifully produced with a stitched Sundance Ultra Felt paper cover printed in a limited edition of 100 copies. It comes with a delightfully evocative woodlands road cover photograph taken by the poet herself.
The poetry is solid in its elements throughout. Many of the pieces display a strong sense of history, as in the following sample about the renovation of an old house in Baltimore’s historic mill area near the Jones Falls, show Ms. Adams’s fine ability to put the reader in the moment with crisp images and nice word sounds. Note how, after in part 1 of the piece, giving us a sense of how the young couple who are the new owners are modifying it in contrast to the tastes of the former occupants, in parts 2 and 3 she pivots to placing the rehabilitation of the house in its historical setting by describing the innards of the walls, and with a zinger of a last line:
Spring Remodeling on Buena Vista Avenue, Baltimore
The drop-ceilings came down with difficulty
as a bent mass of metal rods
and split corkboard, showering our heads
with a drift of fibrous dust.
And sporadically, a small controlled explosion
of decades-old wiring—
plastic that had melted upon itself—
popped through the room
with a champagne-cork jolt,
reminding us that we were novices.
We piled the pieces in the corner
with the piles of brittle flowered linoleum.
The walls were next: a daunting expanse
of more flowers—rhododendrons against blue—
dulled by forty years of cigarette smoke,
car exhaust drifting in through the thick air,
breath, and sweat particles.
With the rhododendrons, sliding to the floor in sheets,
fell chunks of plaster, leaving brittle-edged holes
in the shape of elm leaves.
Peering in, we saw what filled the wall:
A grainy insulation of crushed oyster shells,
pulverized almost to paste,
and black horsehair, thin and soft,
still shiny after a century in the dark.
In 1904, when the house was new,
fire seared a diagonal path through the city,
cutting the streetscape into a crooked line
like the edge of a pinking shear.
Volunteer trucks from as far as Wilmington
and Philadelphia helped pump the brackish harbor
onto the rubble, wood and brick hissing with steam.
And police horses,
meandering from their Saratoga Street stables
in the confusion, were spotted as far north as this,
grazing by the squat, stone mill-houses
and our shingled one—pre-vinyl siding, pre-plastic,
clean and straight, solid as a henge.
Here’s another very lovely and intimate piece which again demonstrates Ms. Adams’s command of line, and her clever use of assonance and alliteration and her call to the senses to make a powerful and arresting statement:
Tell me the sound of one hand moving
into another, the sound of the long gray Taconic
when we lean our heads against it, in the dim
flashlight evening, amid the worm scent
and the soil-pitch bark. Tell me the sound—
that flicking against the mouse-bones
in the skull—of memory, of folding-out road,
I had a thought for no one’s but your ears—
the words that warmed us so
while the fog edged in, smoothing the aspen
leaves and the green spaces
like the heavy press of a palm.
What Is Heard has been published in a limited edition of 100 numbered copies. Get one while you still can!
© Rachel Adams and Christopher T. George
Rachel Adams lives in Washington, D.C., where she serves as the editor at an advocacy nonprofit and of the quarterly literary journal Lines + Stars. Her poetry has appeared in such publications as Memoir, Arsenic Lobster, Town Creek Poetry, Four and Twenty, Crack the Spine, The Urbanite, Melusine, The Conium Review, The Wayfarer, Free State Review, and elsewhere; her piece “What You Bring Along” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 2013. She received her BA in English from the Catholic University of America and her MA in writing from the Johns Hopkins University.
Christopher T. George is one of the editors of Loch Raven Review. He was born in Liverpool, England in 1948 and first emigrated to the United States with his parents in 1955. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland, near Johns Hopkins University with his wife Donna and two cats. His poetry has been published in Poet Lore, Lite, Maryland Poetry Review, Smoke, and Bogg, and online at Crescent Moon Journal, Electric Acorn, Melic Review, Painted Moon Review, Pierian Springs, the poetry (WORM), Triplopia, and Web Del Sol Review. He is the editor of the Desert Moon Review poetry workshop at http://www.thedesertmoonreview.com and has his own personal poetry site at http://chrisgeorge.netpublish.net.