This is Why I Hurt You by Kate Greenstreet
(Lamehouse Press, Saginaw & Brooklyn, 2008)
The spaces between dreamtime and waking, between associative thought and logic are enigmatic and numinous. Questions reside there. And these questions may not often lurch towards answers. Kate Greenstreet’s chapbook, This is Why I Hurt You, roams in this territory.
It’s a spare book, with small poems that work like messages from some unknown place. As they move into the reader’s imagination, these epigrammatic pieces create puzzles to muse on. Like Zen koans, these are meant to be pondered by the reader, not necessarily solved. Photographer and writer Walker Evans’ words serve as a kind of guiding principle: “It’s logical to say that what I do is an act of faith. It came to me. And I worked it out.” Greenstreet’s poems ask us to “work it out,” make your own story or meaning. Or not.
The book ruminates on the purpose of art, particularly poetry. It opens with a short dialogue on the uses of poetry. You can’t stop a tank with a poem, someone once said. Still, Williams’ admonition about what could happen from a lack of poetry isn’t the point either. Poetry is about connectivity, according to Greenstreet. It helps us “to feel human. And to feel that being human is…an okay thing.” Perhaps in complicated times, this is more than enough.
As they move into dream territory, the poems become less tangible. Some wind through a strange narrative about an encounter with a wounded deer. These dream poems are occasionally interspersed with short, disjunctive sentences, some of which originated at Greenstreet’s blog. Somehow this all works—the way dreams make sense and you accept them. Here’s an example:
The picture should be looked at.
In the dream it’s you and me and a lot of other
people. We’re performing a long and complicated
vocal piece and I love you in the dream.
I think it lasts about…twenty minutes, then they
have to use the hack saws. To get it off. Can we
recognize a pattern?
I love the turn in the third stanza, especially the image of the hacksaw in the middle of a choral performance. There’s a wonderful, dark quirkiness to these poems and this book. And somehow I doubt Greenstreet’s last line, “These are all the questions I have.” I think she’s imagining more questions even now.
Pamela Hart, a former journalist, is writer in residence at the Katonah Museum of Art. Her chapbook, The End of the Body, was published in 2006 by toadlily press. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has been published in journals like Kalliope, Rattappalax, and Lumina, and online at The Cortland Review, qarrtsiluni and postalpoetry.