Thursday, May 10, 2007

"The Scarlet Ibis"

Susan Hahn is a poet, playwright and the editor of TriQuarterly literary magazine. She has published seven volumes of poetry: Harriet Rubin’s Mother’s Wooden Hand (1991), Incontinence (1993), Confession (1997), Holiday (2001), Mother In Summer (2002), Self/Pity (2005), and The Scarlet Ibis (2007).

She applied the "page 69 test" to this new collection of poems and reported the following:
It was interesting to write this for Page 69 because, in fact, The Scarlet Ibis ends on page 64 and, since this book is about invisibility, disappearance, and, ultimately, extinction, Marshal Zeringue's initial invitation seemed wonderfully strange.

The book starts out with some amount of descriptive language about plumage, cages, illusions, and invisibility -- either by blending into the environment or going along with what is asked of one for protection and safekeeping. (Many of the sections deal with a clever Magician who tries to control -- with tricks -- a wise Bird and a determined Lady.) Halfway through the book is the beginning of a more stripped language of illness.

Using poetic license at Marshal's suggestion, I turned to pages 34 and 35 (halfway to what would have been a page 69). Since this book was just published I was not that familiar with those pages and wasn't exactly sure what was there. (Also, it takes me awhile to get comfortable with a new book -- corrected page proofs cause me
little concern, but a book is "forever" so this was the first time I had actually opened it.)

At the bottom of page 34 I found that the last stanza of "Lady" Section V began the escalation of the entire meaning of the book:

tape held tight, the wound
where the dug scab once lived --

the crater where I now sleep

curled around the fevered wings

and quiver of a bird with black tips.

"Lady" Section VI, at the top of page 35, further developed this:

Hunting for the margins of the wound,
trying to get past the rancid place

to a paradise of garden...

Here was the beginning of final disappearance -- the real one -- and by page 69 it's all over.
Read more about The Scarlet Ibis at the publisher's website.

Several of Hahn's poems are available online at the Illinois Poet Laureate page.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue