Reviewed by Rich Murphy
The Silent G, Arpine Konyalian Grenier’s fifth collection of poetry was published by Corrupt Press of Luxembourg. The collection involves the reader as though we were sitting around a séance table taking part in calling forth victims of violent historical moments. That kind of engagement with the reader is what poets hope for. Arpine’s other collections are as follows: St. Gregory’s Daughter (University of La Verne Press, 1991); Whores From Samarkand (Florida Literary Foundation Press, 1993); Part, Part Euphrates (Neo Pepper Press, 2007), a chapbook, and The Concession Stand: Exaptation at the Margins (Otoliths Books, 2011), hybrid text.
At times the poems seem laments, breaking a long silence; at other times, they seem celebrations; and still other times, they seem to coexist. In the opening poem “At L’Exposition Universelle, 1889,” the persona is rendered to “feel like Mendelssohn coming across Bach sheet music at the / meat market only in reverse somehow,” she has been “long resigned unto breath.” The empathetic gesture toward recall or out-reach make believable the voices. Here the persona seems to lament being alive without her kin. In “What Rules Qwan Yin” the poet begins the magic of the book that bring everyone to life; she feels dead in life without them: “hey / seal me in while dreams still emanate from graveyards.” The power of empathy here caused this reader to lose touch with his reality and to follow the persona into cemetery dreams more alive than the live ones.
Over and over, the persona takes history and its (so called) victors to task by giving voice, as in “The Saying.” For this reader the passion in this poem is “indomitable” as it brings the concept of human rights to its knees with the image of cold patches of earth for the “wayfaring” strangers, the orphaned Armenian rug weavers. For the persona, “Words and saliva” substitute for cells and skin, the living in this poem; words are not enough. By the end of the poem where the land and flesh military operation makes everyone responsible, the persona asks “are you earnest my friend?” Any idea of séance around any table would rattle bones.
The language in these poems deserves some admiration for its irony, punning, and power. It is almost as though the passion alone makes the point material. “[S]ocialize your loss as conformity’s skirts need hemming,” “over-inconsistency rolls / blunders,” and between these lines one finds
one needs the village and its horizontal
brain as padding for the hollow
default will generate
heartless and cold to the touch
in “All Hidden in Plain Sight, the Ring.” The irony and puns bring the power to the poem. The emptiness through loss pricks, impales, and the reader feels.
In “Assisted Living,” a title loaded for the poet, the persona, the target, and the reader, the tension brings to life again the breathing in and then breathing out “so / axons are firing at the bridge” that must have been lived. The poet challenges the reader to “[C]hoose your memes / your isms,” in order to experience the struggle that “silence predicated” after noise willed. Yet here the persona urges drive mode, prescribing the reader and ghosts to “breathe and feel translation instead / the anti of experience enacted and connected / subtly causal and cosmic.” A list of institutions appear, named by birds chirping song. One imagines them now. The poem ends “nothing is except for my need for it to be / voiced sound over voiceless intent.” The small victory of the poet is in those lines, and if the readers opened their eyes and disengaged there, the séance atmosphere would be experience enough.
However, we get “Yahwa (One Loves),” a praise for a life in poetry in a dialogue and interview. The last breathing exercise in love allowed this reader to leave the book as one might a hypnotist or séance, stunned by its power, but finding my way back to my reality one foot at a time.
About Rich Murphy
Rich Murphy’s poetry collections have won two national book awards: Gival Press Poetry Prize 2008 for Voyeur and in 2013 the Press Americana Poetry Prize for Americana; Asylum Seeker is the third in a trilogy out now (2018) Press Americana. First in the trilogy was Americana, and Body Politic, the second, was published by Prolific Press in January 2017. Murphy’s first book The Apple in the Monkey Tree was published in 2007 by Codhill Press. Chapbooks include Great Grandfather (Pudding House Press), Family Secret (Finishing Line Press), Hunting and Pecking (Ahadada Books), Phoems for Mobile Vices (BlazeVox) and Paideia (Aldrich Press).