Tuesday, May 22, 2007



from A Banner Year by Kate Colby
(belladonna, #95, Fall 2006)

The author of Fruitlands (a Norma Faber First Book Award winner) and the chapbook, Rock of Ages, Kate Colby’s latest chapbook, ‘from A Banner Year’, encompasses themes that range from the sea-faring life, patents and formulae to the domestic and the incidental. It’s also a bit of a slippery eel: slick, sometimes hard to hold onto and not a little unnerving. An excerpt from a book-length poem, ‘from A Banner Year’ has a strange, dreamlike quality due to the seemingly random, embedded nature of a narrative that nags underneath the surface. Maybe the chapbook is not an eel at all. Maybe it’s bigger.

Colby’s love for wordplay is evident: assonance and internal rhyme spill everywhere, salting everything. There is a faded baroqueness to the details, as if once they were meticulous but have now been worn away by the sea air:

A man is woe-
begone, granted
US Patent 1,420,258. †

             A slant September afternoon,
             white caps, the forelawn sharp
             with shadows, Irene is gathering
             loosestrife, now gone to seed,
             pulling nettles, sassafras, bitter-
             sweet from blighted dogwood,
             the ugly rhododendrons.

             Dry husks and berries fall, glance
             the rocks below, a salt and pepper
             tide of claws and barnacles, ripples
             sneezing in the rockweed, sticky
             pools of ambergris,
             dreamy engine oil […]
(p. 7)

The homonymic rhyme of ‘forelawn’ to ‘forlorn’ alludes to a feeling of nostalgia or regret; the indented section can be read as an enumeration of things missing, longed-for and missed. As indicated in the excerpt, intriguing detours offer a new route into the poem, via a footnote glyph of dagger or obelos.

It is through such diversions and hints that ‘from A Banner Year’ evokes, surprisingly, Herman Melville’s Moby Dick -- not only for its maritime allusions but also for situating the reader in the role of an ever-questing Ahab. Satisfaction will always be deferred, not least because ‘from A Banner Year’ is selected from a larger work.

One must question why the chapbook format was chosen in this instance. Perhaps, in publishing ‘from A Banner Year’, it was Kate Colby’s intention to create an infuriating desire in a not-yet-extant A Banner Year. Well, she has succeeded with one reader at least. Let’s hope its full and complete incarnation appears on the horizon soon. We’ll keep our keen harpoons at the ready.


Ivy Alvarez is the author of Mortal (Red Morning Press, 2006) and three chapbooks: 'what's wrong, 'catalogue: life as tableware' and Food for Humans. She also edited 'A Slice of Cherry Pie', a chapbook anthology of poems inspired by David Lynch's Twin Peaks. The Australia Council for the Arts and Academi recently awarded her a grant to write poems for her second manuscript. Her poetry appears in journals and anthologies worldwide and online.