Review of the poetry book:
Standing on the Edge of the World by Lindsey Martin- Bowen, 2008, Woodley Memorial Press, Topeka, KS, ISBN 978-0-939391-44-8, 92 pp., $10.00
“The night is Dresden…” reads the opening line of Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s poem, Working Toward the Last Line, as she compares the arcing flashes, sparks, and chaos of downed tree limbs and power lines in a raging Kansas ice storm to a WWII firestorm. She uses such apt but unexpected allusions throughout this book, enriching her poems and expanding our perception of her poetic vision. This is work of sumptuous insight and surprising conjunctions. In one of my favorite poems in this book, Hanging Out in the Student Center, Martin-Bowen juxtaposes Lorca, Caravaggio, Borges, and Ferlinghetti, who comprise a strange enough crowd in themselves, then places them against the streets and landmarks of Kansas City Missouri: Troost Avenue, Swinney Gym, Country Club Plaza. And, by God, they all seem to belong there; you find yourself wanting her to text you so you can follow her down those streets the next time she gets them all together.
Martin-Bowen is as effective in making magic of our prosaic small town back yards (“…an old tire swing moans empty,” from Dancing with Aunt Virginia) as she is in showing us the wonders of the world. Here is how she sees classic Italian statues: “…I think about / how Michelangelo freed their forms, / how their eyes have no pupils. / They stare into the future / without flinching / and show no regret.” (from the poem Statues).
The book is divided into four sections: Seasonscapes, Another Place in this World a Woman Can Walk, Two Brown Bears Dancing, and Beyond the Vanishing Point. There are rich gifts to be found in each section, but I wish to focus next on some of the poems that appear in the last.
I am particularly attracted to the way in which Martin-Bowen can bring Biblical characters to life with layered depth and fierce vitality. Peter’s Wife asks: “How could you abandon me for a man? / … you won’t live in Capernaum again. / You won’t fish again. You won’t drink again. / We’ll no more share our strange sin, / this earthy love.”
And listen as myrrh-bearer Mary Magdalen Rebukes Peter: “… / At our gatherings, / you boast of your loyalty / and call me a whore / who will destroy him. / But he knows your game: / when I wail at his grave, you will / deny you walked with him, / deny you slept with him, / deny you knew his name.”
In The Madonna she captures the essence of all the lovely Marian icons we have ever seen “… / I shiver above flames / in tiny red and blue jars / … / My son stepped through fire. / It darted from the eyes of throngs / that had fanned him with palms / the week before… / …I give off no sweet scent. / It’s the candles’ perfume that fills the nostrils / of seekers who fall prostrate. / Far from my fingers, they bend / too low to touch.”
Pick up a copy of Lindsey Martin-Bowen’s book. Read it. Here are words that will remind you what an exquisite combination we humans are of the spiritual, the passionate, the proud, and the profane. Hers is the work of a perceptive and extraordinary poet.
– Roy Beckemeyer, 24 June, 2015