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Sober Cooking by Lynn McGee

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I am tired of fighting.  Our chiefs are killed.  Looking Glass is dead.  Toohulhulsote is dead.  The old men are all dead.  It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led the young men is dead.

— Chief Joseph

sobercooking-png“Crazy Horse dreamed and went into the world where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. That is the real world that is behind this one, and everything we see here is something like a shadow from that one.”  

—Black Elk

Anyone who has read the words of these indelible Native Americans has savored the purity, the utter artlessness of their speech and the thought processes it reveals. They are poets of plain speech in ways William Carlos Williams, Carl Sandburg and Robert Frost would have admired. And for all we know they may have influenced those poets.

Lynn McGee is this kind of poet. The purity and lack of artifice in her poems opens our minds to anything she has to say, and from the very first poem of Sober Cooking she tells us that she is not the kind of poet who, like the press, writes incident reports. She is, rather, the kind of poet who grasps the amplitudhedron, who knows that everything is a facet of the same jewel:

Rifling through the deep bin of ginger root,
I find one that is both plump and gnarled,
heavy with moisture
and gleaming, slick when sliced.

How long will I see your absence,
in the small steps of my life?

This enthralling proem, called Root, is our briefing for this apostrophic journey in which the second person belongs to the Sidhe, an elemental, etheric presence to whom the poet speaks, doubtlessly more candidly and pognantly than she was ever able to do before:

This is where I fell on ice—
right here, where the sidewalk dips,
and a woman who walks her grandson to pre-K
stopped to help me up. I thanked her
and thanked her,
but wanted you and held my bloody palm
all day, like an offering.

You simply can’t write this way, with this kind of translucence, unless you’re a reverent listener. McGee’s are listener poems, not because she is emulating heard patterns of speech, but because her mind is the elixir that ennobles the speech she hears. It would be easy to call her a poet of the ordinary, what with her talk ginger bins and Franklin Avenue and the corner deli, but Sober Cooking, as the title implies, is an alchemical laboratory, transmuting the poet’s witness into epiphany.

The deadliest enemy of poetry may be pretense, following in order by pretentiousness. Their absence creates the silence prerequisite to the finest poetry:

Lightning strikes
eight million times a day.

Deflect the bolt,
and you amplify
its power.

Sober Cooking is a lightning strike. Lynn McGee does not deflect.

Sober Cooking, Lynn McGee, Spuyten Duyvil Press, 89pp, 2016, $15

Djelloul Marbrook © Copyright 2016

Djelloul Marbrook was born in 1934 in Algiers to a Bedouin father and an American painter. He is the editor-in-chief of the Arabesques Review. He worked as a reporter for The Providence Journal and as an editor for The Elmira (NY) Star-Gazette, The Baltimore Sun, The Winston-Salem Journal & Sentinel and The Washington Star. Later he worked as executive editor of four small dailies in northeast Ohio and two medium-size dailies in northern New Jersey.

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