Book Review: Deep City by Megan Kaminski
In Deep City, Megan Kaminski brings readers into the middle of a city—and since this is no particular city, it can be every city. The book opens with the first section “The Cities,” presented in apostrophe, first asking the “dear cabbie” to drive faster. The speaker stays in imperative mode throughout the poem, even though the listener to whom she speaks shifts as sporadically as the landscape.
One gets the sense of viewing through the cab window the city shifting from “lanes of traffic” to “halls cubicles queues,” with the speaker expecting to “sign / away [her] body.” An onslaught of sensory images unwind throughout the poem, intermingling architecture and archeology and then rendering the city as a living organism: “dear city I want to crawl inside your chest / ply rib by rib by rib . . . .”
Diction takes a sensory turn as the speaker begins listening to the sounds of the city:
………….soft text keening
through silence and explosion
through parts of throbbing
city built line on line body on body
Kaminski further personifies the city as a ballet dancer, adding layers of the language of dance:
the city stands on her toes
glissades acquiesces surrenders
plucks strings and plies whispers
Throughout this first section, the speaker explores her own identity, directly addressing first the “dear cabbie” in the opening lines and “dear, tourniquet, dear overbite” and then “Dear neighbor, dear Liberty”, asking to be named: modesty, vexation, transient, obligatory, hindsight, plenty, princess, and lost wages.
This journey into the “deep city” evokes all the senses and is infused with color, particularly the shades of jewels—cobalt, emerald, ruby, and garnet. Readers share these experiences, hearing the sounds, or the silence, or smelling and tasting. The speaker seems to be searching:
I’ve lost my Sonia and my Susie
gone market among aisles of
flowers and fruits spilt perfume
sugared bitter across the tongue
all cashmere slipped drawers
………..(what if I split it open
………..melon ripe and red
………..let them all out)
Then the speaker summons night and the “dear misplaced images,” anticipating her need for them to carry her and her children once she finds herself “wordspent gangrene unburied.”
Part 2, “Apochrypha,” opens with a series of images, often sharp-edged, earthen, which the speaker implies are remnants of memory. In this section, the poems too appear in fragments, and pronoun choices reveals the entrance of a second person moving in and out of the poems, someone she asks, “where were you yesterday morning” in “Before the steel bridge east” as she tests images for permanence—hills, maples, salt trails, names traced.
In “As chief cartographer for the city,” she imagines a catalog including “lost dreams” and “stolen memories” as if they were as tangible as subways, streets, and restaurants. Specific cities merit only brief mention—not only New York, but Hibiya Lane in Japan and Janiculum Hill in Rome, until the locations shift so quickly the reader gets a sensation of looking down on the map from the sky.
In “Collections,” the final section, Kaminski gathers images into patterned stanzas, most with a list of seven or eight concrete images, usually a pair of words, separated from longer lines of phrases with the barest of connections, if any.
Most of the narrow columns are awash with color: black sludge, yellow stone, blue glass, scarlet flowers and green green green. One imagines the impact of the poems when read aloud. The longer lines play with sound—sibilant—“stirring subterranean insects” and alliterative—“Ladies leisure holidays mid-week morning.”
Particularly in this final section of the book, Kaminski’s process of discovery of connections satisfies. Sensory images pile up faster and faster, ending at last in a library setting amid “carrels,” “marbled paper,” and dust and mildewed air.”. Rather than leaving these images on the shelves, she invites the reader to “lay them softly / down beside us stroke their white skin.”
Nancy Posey is a teacher, reader, writer, and artist, Her poetry and reviews have appeared in Poet’s Market, Writer’s Digest, Wild Goose Poetry Review, The Charlotte Observer, the Raleigh News and Observer and a number of other print and online publications. She blogs about reading as The Discriminating Reader. Her chapbook Let the Lady Speak was published in 2010. She also organized the 2015 Fall Face-to-Face in the Foothills Poetry Festival in collaboration with Hickory Museum of Art. www.nancyposey.com.