Grace Intoxicated, a book of poems beautifully made and accompanied by the rich and meditative abstract landscapes by painter Kate Whittaker, will pull the reader across a threshold and soon he or she will share Kyle Elden’s vision and “Words like/ regret and if only/ fall like feathers from a bird in flight/ falling softly downward/ white against a blue sky.”
In her voice, I hear echoes of Walt Whitman and Allen Ginsberg embracing the world and an echo of Hafiz’s ecstatic love. Behind the words is loss. She speaks to a lover or a reader, to herself, or to God with an intimate voice –she consoles and cajoles and celebrates with physical joy and vivid orange tiger lilies and lilacs blooming. “I have sifted through every shadow/ taken all possible light// I now hold this darkness/ for it has been given to me/ as well…” In her poem, “The Cure for Depression”: Get dumb drunk off of sunlight/ sing to yourself in buses/ hallways,/ bathrooms/ et cetera/ …go skinny-dipping and gather goose bumps.”
She engages with what it means to be a woman, loving others, mothering, raising a daughter, visiting elders in a nursing home, and she goes deeper to examine the culture of beauty and the need to be “perfect” and theology. She talks about what it is to have your heart broken and to mend it yourself, and to thrive despite loss and disappointment. The images in the poems have a strong visual clarity, the senses are completely engaged, and the language has assonance.
Her landscape is the shore of Lake Superior, the Lakewalk and the beach and the sidewalks of the city of Duluth. There is cold and fires of light in the relentless rhythm of waves on the beach that wash away footsteps and bring the driftwood and broken bits of life to our feet. I like the grit and the lilies rising from the dirt inside broken railroad ties.
I like the breaking of brown eggs and the deep yellow yolks. I like the sharp focus of her images: the figure eight of rope tied around the cleat on a dock, the broken things, the drifting boat, the agates she hunts on the beach, the brilliant mornings and sunsets. One poem, “Becoming Tea,” offers a centering meditation, the red cup held in the palms, as the tea unfurls into the hot water. The poem acknowledges loss, says, yes, we are never the same again, but “something more/ unlocked/ released.”
The center – the egg yolk, the sun, the center of the lilies, God, the deep well – the center holds this book together in the widening gyre of life. It’s passionate. The title of the book comes from Bishop John Shelby Spong who said, "be a God intoxicated human being, which means to live fully, love wastefully, and be all that we can be!” The poems are about living fully and loving wastefully. She spends herself well, writing poems like this. I relish these poems, and I can’t wait until she finishes her next book.
Review by Sheila Packa
Sheila Packa has three books of poetry (Cloud Birds, Echo and Lightning, The Mother Tongue) an anthology of Lake Superior area writers, titled Migrations, and she was Duluth Poet Laureate 2010-2012 and recipient of Loft McKnight Fellowships and awards from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council.