Land of Stone
Karen Chase’s second volume of poems, BEAR (CavanKerry Press; May 2008; $16.00, paperback), affirms the promise of her debut, Kazimierz Square, which former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins heralded as “incandescent.” Again, Chase finds the cryptic beauty in the rawness of everyday life, in our fragile, sometimes menacing juxtaposition to nature, and in the tightrope of human relationships. The poems, some of which first appeared in such far-flung publications as The Southern Review, Alaska Quarterly, Another Chicago Magazine, and Poetry Ireland, teem with Chase’s characteristic fearlessness and hopefulness, delivered with an unadorned, articulate fusion of language and ideas.
As its title suggests, the bear takes a central, recurring role in many of poems in the book, as the poet quite literally communes with this enigmatic woodland adversary of man. On reading BEAR, John Haines commented, “Among other instructive pleasures in this new collection, Karen Chase's "Bear" poems are an innovation. I recommend them to the reader -- with caution, please!" In “Traveling in Bear Country,” humor punctuates the discourse: “Are you listening, Bear?/I’m speaking to you!” And while there is an affinity between woman and beast - “You and I, Bear, we feel/sun warm the air.” - ultimately the poet feels a smallness in the ursine presence. “Bear, I belong back in my yard, worrying/about words and money, acting human.” The pas de deux continues, the poet seemingly at a loss for words, “Just because I can speak, Bear, don’t/expect me to. It’s not always human/to talk, in case you didn’t know” (“The Hint”), until intimidation cedes to an empowerment that signals so much more - “Don’t fool with me. I hear stories/from friends who know your kind.”
Another recurring theme in the poems explores a more sensual, less threatening connection to nature. From the first poem in the book, “A Glistening,” where “The fish gleams gold/hits the air - blink - /the gold’s gone” recalls the romantic and erotic promise of Yeats’s little silver trout, the primal act of fishing becomes a prelude to a union of body and spirit. It also serves as geographical connecting tissue that binds the poet to Mexico, to Italy, to Alaska, and to the transcendent moments of witness.
The past is near at hand in much of Chase’s poetry, from the primordial incantation of “The Abandoned Briggs Marble Quarry,”
While you push outward,
Karen Chase “has a great way of illuminating experiences we can all relate to,” says Another Chicago Magazine. “[T]hrough the singular emotions, a scent or touch can bring to life…we are able to marvel at the phenomenon that often something is closer once it is gone.” “Chase is fearless when it comes to the articulation of the imagination,” adds The Berkshire Eagle. “Her work echoes the philosophy of the dark romantics who advocated that the imagination is limitless and that art is the right place to share our best as well as our darkest wanderings.”