Sunday, July 1, 2007

"Honey with Tobacco"

Peg Boyers is author of two books of poems, Hard Bread and Honey with Tobacco.

She applied the "page 34/35 test" -- which is the blog's modified version of the "page 69 test" for poetry collections of fewer than 100 pages -- to the latter and reported the following:
Turning to page 34 of my new book of poems, Honey with Tobacco lands the reader in the second section of the book, a completely discrete 14 poem sequence having nothing to do with either part one or with part two, thematically, tonally or formally. Section one contains very autobiographical poems dealing with my Cuban heritage, while the poems in the final section reflect on the matter of being a woman and an artist. One would get very little idea indeed of the entire book from turning to page 34, though I would hope that the poem would entice the reader to read on.

The sequence, “Deposition,” employs imagery derived from the New Testament via medieval and Renaissance art to explore the painful family dynamics between two parents and their son whose life choices at the time seemed to be propelling him toward certain death. The titles of these poems therefore intentionally evoke the familiar iconography of the “Annunciation,” “The Agony in the Garden,” “Pieta” and so on, while aiming to dramatize contemporary situations. The title poem “Deposition,” for example, is spoken in the imagined voice of the mother of Matthew Shepard, a young man who was crucified on a fence in Wyoming some years ago for the terrible crime of being gay.

The poem on page 34, entitled “Palm Sunday,” depicts the Holy Family entering the crowded streets of Jerusalem, more or less without fanfare. The mother is the one on the donkey and though she carries a scepter made of palms she has no crown and knows herself not to be the Queen of the Happy Few. She realizes that what in her mind are events of seismic proportions accompanied by torment of the same scale, are of no interest to anyone but the players in the drama. This is a consoling thought to the speaker who concludes: “I can live with this.” Read in isolation this conclusion does not have much weight, but coming after “Annunciation” (in which she realizes that she is “not full of grace./ … not blessed among women.”) and before “Pieta” (which records a recurring nightmare in which the speaker confronts the anxiety that she will not be equal to the task of forgiving her son for following his destiny: though she knows that as a mother she must and will forgive, in the dream her response is “the impossible no.”) they mark an important turn in her apprehension of her own destiny.
Read more about Honey with Tobacco -- including the poem "Pietà" -- at the publisher's website.

Peg Boyers teaches Creative Writing at Skidmore College and is the Executive Editor of the quarterly, Salmagundi. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New Republic, Slate, Ploughshares, Raritan, Daedalus, Notre Dame Review, Southern Review, Southwest Review, New England Review, Ontario Review, Partisan Review, The New Criterion, Michigan Quarterly Review, Guernica, and other magazines.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue