by Andrea Witzke-Slot
Gold Wake Press
(2012, USD 17.50)

To Find a New Beauty (cover)
As the cover image suggests,
To Find a New Beauty is a collection with recurring images of the ocean; and like the ocean on a calm day, these poems feature a quiet surface under which a current of passion surges, one that ultimately carries the reader away, into the territory of both introspection and gratitude.

In the era of collections designed with an “arc,” To Find a New Beauty attempts to create structure, but also allows for poems that explore beyond a narrow theme or topic. The collection is punctuated intermittently with an eight-part prose poem that serves as both a frame for the collection and an ars poetica, in which the ocean serves as both muse and mistress.

Imagery in many of these poems is lush and inviting.  “Hawks Nest, St John USVI,” begins with these sensual lines: “The hills tongue their way to the sea / as if the sea begs the land to slide / into its waiting open mouth.”  In “Lyonesse,” “Waves spit forth proof / of its existence, the sea / curls its many fingers.”  The ocean and the land are granted human, perhaps God-like qualities that emphasize their relationships to us and to one another.

Several story lines occur in narrative poems in the collection, including “Ode to a Bear: Part I” and “Ode to a Bear: Part II,” which present different responses and endings to the same situation: a camping trip during which the narrator has been warned by her companion to watch out for bears.  Other poems address common experiences with introspection or twists of thought, such as “These city hives unknowing,” which begins when the narrator, in a hotel room, looks into another room across the street and sees another guest, and “The Mechanics,” which focuses on a routine car repair.  Still other narrative poems are set in early part of the 20th Century, in which women face such challenges as marrying a sister’s widower and raising her nieces and nephews, or sending letters to lovers fighting in World War II, or defining whether the first on-screen kiss was pornographic.

A significant number of poems in the collection include epigraphs or references to writers including H.D., Faulkner, Keats, and Chekhov, and many also include musical elements or references, including an epigraph about Claude Debussy, and poems with titles like “The Nightlight: a Lullaby” and “Intermezzo.” The inherent musicality and influences of Romantic composers and writers known for their vivid imagery are evident in the arc of the collection, which centers on the Romantic virtues of Truth and Beauty, and the search for a new definition of both.

In the final installment of the long poem that sews together the collection, we find these lines:  “I unwind into self, into light, into dark. I listen to the hum of the sea as I drift, yielding to the silence, the drifting, pulsating pull.” This is what it feels like to be immersed in poetry; Andrea Witzke-Slot takes us to that place beyond the surface, where we find both silence and beauty.

– Kris Bigalk