Timothy J. Bazzett
- Published on Amazon.com
UNCODED WOMAN: POEMS, by Anne-Marie Oomen.
I don't read a lot of poetry, because I often find myself flummoxed or mystified when I do. Not so much with this slim collection, which I wanted to read because I have so loved all four books of Oomen's prose, from her first, Pulling Down the Barn: Memories of a Rural Childhood (Great Lakes Books Series), to her latest, Love, Sex, and 4-H (Made in Michigan Writers Series). And in fact I liked these poems very much, finding them at once both accessible and very moving. The poems themselves form a narrative arc - a story - which is quite easy to follow. The speaker is the same in all the poems, a woman from New Orleans named 'Bead' (short for Beatrice), who, in the opening poem ("KS 1 I Have Taken the Line"), is "... on the run / ... My truck is military green and stole, / rest of me is black and blue, so down / and out, I don't know where I'll go."
Bead picks up a hitchhiker, a man part Native American, first name 'Barn,' and lands in northern Michigan, where he is from. Fleeing from a brutal father who has sexually abused her, Bead approaches Barn very carefully, "... trying to scent / where home is, if I want it" ("NE You Should Proceed with Great Caution").
Barn is a skilled fisherman, who knows lakes big and small, rivers and streams. In "FO I Will Keep Close to You," Bead studies him -
"So. After I marry Barn, I watch him fish. Salmon,
trout, perch, bass run to his lines and nets.
I guess if they must be caught, it would best
be his wide hands, large as burdock leaves,
sweet as bait on skilled line -
and the kill, when the time comes,
small as a star."
As a couple Bead and Barn have their highs and lows, but he builds a cabin and they begin to sink roots ("QX I Request Permission to Anchor"). But her abusive past still haunts her. The poems do not reflect an easy journey for Bead. There is not even any promise that things will end happily. But this is a tale in verse that will make you think; you will find yourself rooting for this woman. I've only had the book a couple days, but I think I have now read it at least six times. There is much to be gleaned from these carefully chosen words, and I keep finding new things each time through.
The titles of the poems here are signal codes taken from THE INTERNATIONAL CODE OF SIGNALS, a mariners communications manual that Bede finds a copy of in a local store and steals ("FZ 1 I Am Continuing to Search"). Hmm .. a battered refugee from the Gulf transplanted to the northern shores of Lake Michigan, and sailors' signals as metaphors. Does this work? Yes, and it works very well.
And speaking of northern Michigan, I wondered if the Art's Bar visited in a couple of the poems was a tip of the hat to Art's Tavern in Glen Arbor, a venue well-known to Oomen and the Beach Bards, a group of poets from the Traverse City area of which she is often a member.
But the characters that people these poems are not from the artists and poets strata of northern Michigan. Quite the opposite. Bead and Barn and their friends are more apt to be the kind eager to harvest a road-killed buck, take up residence in a junked Airstream, grow earthworms in the cellar, or sell the pelts of half grown fox kits. People scratching for a living on the fringes of society. It is a down-and-dirty, gritty, hardscrabble kind of existence, and Oomen has captured it in excruciating detail.
Poetry. Too often it leaves me scratching my head wondering, Huh? Not these poems. There's a story here, and a damn good one, worthy of repeated readings. Very highly recommended.
- Tim Bazzett, author of the memoir, BOOKLOVER