Must-read poetry: Caduceus

Today, I welcome a special guest contributor to Looking Closer: Anne M. Doe Overstreet, who is one of my favorite poets, a sharp-eyed editor, and a skilled gardener.

And these are only a few of the reasons I married her.

Anyway, she brings us a review today of a new book of poetry that has been dazzling her imagination of late. So, Anne… take it away!

Caduceus, by Sørina Higgins. WordTech Communications (2012).

The title — Caduceus, that heraldic staff most often associated with Greek mythology and Hermes — sets us up to expect the stuff of legends, the large, the heroic. Sørina Higgins’ latest collection surprises the reader with more: an apostolic presence kneels alongside a contemporary woman attentive to communion in proximity with bitter Mordred, the doomed son, each encountering or aware of “Someone in this empty room”, each striving to give shape to that encounter. There is a psalmic quality to the telling that rings true, inviting the reader to witness the wider scope of faith, that complicated pairing of ecstasy and doubt.

There is much here to savor and to reconsider; the reader will benefit from repeated visits. Consider Demeter’s account of the conception of Persephone with an ordinary man who “smoothed the blighted / parts of me, and made us one, then made us into three”, which echoes the triune nature of time that Christ inhabits, “before and after, in the Trinity, / He surpassed the (how many?) there are”. There are countless such reverberations. The first mother, Eve, is separated only by the breath of a page from Mary, mother of the second Adam. One rivulet braids into another creek and the individual piece becomes a deeper thing, tasting of God. A pivotal poem, “Natal Astronomy”, articulates the suspicion or experience of the divine that courses through the human story, for, as the poet says, while the old gods “have no similitude… in this Advent night” yet their “thousand pages… make thin the mystery” and “every figurine foreshadows the truth”. Certain themes run clear in each section, but throughout the collection as a whole, a subtle current of connection also flows. Higgins’ ability to tease out themes and imagery inhabiting the larger narrative of history, to present and bind them in unexpected ways, is one of her strengths. The result is subtle and pleasing.

The poet’s diction and lyric lines lure the reader into realms of classic mythology and early saints without pretense. Her language ranges from formal — Higgins possesses an enviable competence with form, particularly the sonnet — to a looser free verse that propel the reader, much like the Dramatis Personae of the Epilogue, through the intimacies of lovers, skeptics, preachers, believers, metaphors, the voice of God.

In the opening piece, the speaker, who bears the caduceus, strides onto the stage, restless, strung out on language and at the mercy of those who speak or tell their quotidian tales. The accumulated voices drive the godlet messenger a little mad. And so they should. The voice of their experience is immense. But the poet herself makes deft use of the only form that can hold the entirety of what she encounters and gives voice to: poetry.

The pattern, somehow, the star-field dance, / was like a text. Was less than words, / and therefore more: was poetry. / Was story, and had characters.

Order a copy of Caduceus here.

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