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SEED WHEEL
APRICOTS OF DONBAS
Masquerade
ECCENTRIC DAYS OF HOPE AND SORROW
Retreats & Recognitions  
|
  Grace Bauer

ISBN 978-0-9762114-6-4     $18  /  $25 (Canada)     5.5 x 8.5       

84 pp      
PUB DATE: Spring 2007       Poetry





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All one has to do is read “Note From the Imaginary Daughter,” the first poem in Grace Bauer’s Retreats and Recognitions, and you’ll be caught in the grip of psychological drama and an evocative imagination that will make you want to read further. Bauer’s poems probe the dark landscapes between impression and apprehension, the past and its repetition though imaginative transformation, impulse and restraint. Her delivery is tough and terse; her imagery is fresh and often startling. There is experience and authority in her voice. She can be immensely witty, as in “Plot Lines,” where she improvises on the word, tale, or virtuoso as in her intricate sestina, “A Little Like Dorothy.” Succinct, like “Awakened By the Fall,” and evocative, like “Lunacy.” Her poems are poignant, intelligent, and believable. Poetry lovers, read this book!

—Robert Pack, author of Elk in Winter and Composing Voices, and final judge for the Idaho Prize for Poetry 2006
 

Grace Bauer has a rare power: whether it is the appearance of Mormon missionaries at her door or finding an answer to an eight year old boy’s question, “What’s Nebraska?” she transforms life into perfect poems. In this collection, her poems connect to the world through personal history (days spent in Nebraska, New Orleans, and Greece) and popular culture (Blanche Dubois, Norma Jean Baker and Dorothy, formerly of Oz, all make guest appearances) in ways that combine the comic and the elegiac. In the wonderful poem “Revising My Vita,” she examines her life through the lens of that ship’s log of academic career, the CV, and finds “life is a course of study I will/ never really be sure I’ve passed.” All the strong poems in Retreats & Recognitions are grounded in the reality of detail, though Bauer is smart enough to realize how often the real mimics the surreal in a world where Krishnas cruise Bourbon Street. Retreats & Recognitions is a book where memory and imagination converge.

—Jesse Lee Kercheval
 

The bad boys inside good girls” hurrah Bauer’s new book where a crucifix bonks Mom on the head and “the road to ruin looks scenic.” You lucky reader, you.

—Terese Svoboda

About the Author

Grace Bauer

Grace Bauer is the author of Beholding Eye (CustomWords, 2006) and The Women At The Well (Portals Press, 1997) as well as three chapbooks of poems: Where You’ve Seen Her (Pennywhistle Press), The House Where I’ve Never Lived (Anabiosis Press), and Field Guide To The Ineffable: Poems On Marcel Duchamp (Snail’s Pace Press). Her poems, stories, and essays have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals, including: Arts & Letters, Colorado Review, Doubletake, Margie, Poetry, Rattle, Southern Poetry Review, and others. She has received an Academy of American Poets Prize, Individual Artists Grants from the Virginia Commission for the Arts and the Nebraska Arts Council, and Fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center. She is co-editor (with Julie Kane)of Umpteen Ways Of Looking At A Possum: Critical And Creative Responses To Everette Maddox (Xavier Review Press). She teaches at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Awards

Winner of the 2008 Independent Publisher Book Award for Poetry.

Winner of the Idaho Prize for Poetry 2006, judged by Robert Pack

 

Reviews

The Cafe Review
A quarterly journal of poetry for fifteen years

Over the years I’ve become a bit jaded about blurbs. Usually, someone I don’t know writes breathlessly about how this book is gonna change the world. So, reading that Grace Bauer is immensely witty, has rare power, and produces fresh and often startling imagery didn’t exactly move me. I admit that while Terese Svoboda’s punchy: “The bad boys inside good girls’ hurrah Bauer’s new book where a crucifix bonks Mom on the head and ‘the road to ruin looks scenic’” enticed me, her admonishment: "You lucky reader, you." made me think to myself, "I’ll be the judge of that."

By now you are probably onto the fact that I have been convinced of Bauer’s wit and astute ear, as in “No Such Thing As an Easy Answer” (Retreats and Recognitions), with its list of forty-eight lines that traces deliciously an arc of experience many of us will recognize, beginning: “Is this seat taken? / Do you come here often? /Can I buy you a drink?” and then: “Want to dance the next slow one? / Is that dress legal? / So you’re a poet, huh?” to: “Want to read some of my poems? / Do you type?” and beyond.

Or the way she plays with the word 'day' in “Aubade”:

That kind of day.
One for turning the past over. Like compost.
Day for licking salt from your wounds. (You have many.)
Day for discovering the joy of dirty window panes.
Day to play music loud. And to hell with the neighbors—
They don’t like opera. They don’t like R&B.
They don’t like soul. Or folk. And you like it all.
Day for getting what you like—any and every which way
you can get it.
Day for going barefoot
Or for wearing fuck-me shoes around the house.

In some poems, Bauer transforms the mundane, carrying you off to the mystical moment and then gently returning you to the here and now, but changed. “Normal by Mistake” begins with a rider who has gotten on the wrong bus because she was distracted by two punk lovers necking: “. . . Across the aisle a man clutched a Lion King / lunch box against his Big Red parka, / argued fiercely with someone the rest of us / could not see . . . .” She rides for blocks, “before it dawned on me / that I’d taken the Normal by mistake. . . . And I, having little choice sat back / and pondered the road I had taken / or been taken by.” She rides the full circuit and finds a bus that looks just like the one she took:

This time I checked to be sure it would take me
where I thought I had been going—home—
just one block north of South—a destination
that makes as much, or little, sense
as any, once you’ve realized you are always
arriving, though also along for the ride.

I had the pleasure of discovering the far-ranging and multi-faceted qualities of Bauer’s work when I received both the Beholding Eye and Retreats and Recognitions at the same time. She moves with competence and ease from a daughter’s world view to the reflections of an aging boomer professor (and I can say that because I am one too), moving from a formal voice to a freewheeling delight in the sounds of words and then dazzles us, in the Beholding Eye, with more ruminations on culture and class, power and identity, using artist and writers and their works as launching points. Meet here Artemesia Gentileschi, Louise Nevelson, Georgia O’Keefe, Edward Hopper, looking at their own work; or Marcel Duchamp meeting Andy Warhol. Bauer works her magic, inviting us to look again, listen again, and differently, to both the works and their echoes in our lives. (From the blurbs you will learn that these are ekphrastic poems, but not to worry. They are delicious adventures, and ekphrastic means only that two artists are at work—the original artist and the responding artist.)

“The Eye of the Beholder, after Diane Arbus,”—the poem that lends its title to the collection—is, for me, the key to Bauer’s intentions: “All human beauty is / an aberration, a mirror / trick drawing us / into itself. Into what is not.”

Try to picture yourself
beyond denial. Run your hands
across your average face,
your normal body. And tell me
how you differ from these
miracles that always make you
want to look away.

There are poems in this collection that do not quite get off the ground, poems that seem too consciously involved in the practice of language or intellect to serve their subjects well, but they are far outweighed by the successes produced by the funny, intelligent eye that Bauer turns on everyone and everything. Plunge in, prepare for an exhilarating ride, you lucky reader, you.

— Erika Butler



 
NOTE FROM THE IMAGINARY DAUGHTER

I have no daughter. I desire none.
—Weldon Kees

Mother always swore your plunge was faked
so you could vanish—unknown—into travel.
I waited for a postcard—some sign I could take
as proof she was right. Some thread I’d unravel
back to you—wherever you were. Mexico,
she guessed.
In pictures you look sad but kind.
Mother said you were brilliant but confused.
She said I might not like the man I’d find—
if I ever did.
She said you’d only used
her love for art; still she wished you’d let her go along.
She kept the poems. The paintings, too.
And I composed myself a father who
filled my desire—a man too real to mourn.
Some nights I dream you dead. Some days, unborn.

 

DEAR ABSENCE

The nothing I reach toward
now will have to find
a name for itself.

The darkness that was once
the pleasure of your hands
on me, now nothing

but a shade memory pulls down
against a too bright sun
that insists upon rising.

It doesn’t matter what I wish
it were, there’s no love
left in this house and what I hold

onto now is my other self,
the one no one can
take me away from. I can

forget the words you whispered
when drunkenness was God
and I your naked dancer.

They were never more
than half the truth, and what was whole
was only partly right.

Take it all back, and remember: what love can’t heal from inside, it can harden against itself.