Monday, February 13, 2017

"The Brighter House"

Kim Garcia is the author of The Brighter House, winner of the 2015 White Pine Press Poetry Prize, DRONE, winner of the 2015 Backwaters Prize, and Madonna Magdalene, released by Turning Point Books in 2006. Her chapbook Tales of the Sisters won the 2015 Sow’s Ear Poetry Review Chapbook Contest. Her poems have appeared in such journals as Crab Orchard Review, Crazyhorse, Mississippi Review, Nimrod and Subtropics, and her work has been featured on The Writer’s Almanac. Recipient of the 2014 Lynda Hull Memorial Prize, an AWP Intro Writing Award, a Hambidge Fellowship and an Oregon Individual Artist Grant, Garcia teaches creative writing at Boston College.

She applied the Page 69 Test to The Brighter House and reported the following:
From page 69:
the mystic crucifixion by Tintoretto

has become a Nativity. A curator’s x-ray reveals the bishop below
the shepherd, hands folded over his heart. The woman
with her arms flung wide has not lost her son, but received
him—suffering at both ends of the frame, worn
canvas sewn together. A chicken scratches
in the dirt. Over the hill the Magi arrive, impossibly clean
like a cavalry of peace. They have left their arms
at the palace, hands clasped around enthusiasm already
brimming the small vessel that must contain it. His
swaddling is whiter than the lamb
that sniffs at its fold. To work this miracle the legs of Christ
are severed, painted over. An angel is chopped in half. Clouds
become rocks. Everything heavier as the glory settles
like sediment in a glass. A camel spits.
Crickets stitch in the straw. It is always the first day.
Sometimes at public readings, I lead with this poem since The Brighter House is a collection of just such attempts at spiritual reconstruction. I imagine the painter Tintoretto’s decision to take a crucifixion and remake it as nativity (something revealed in the last decade when curators x-rayed the canvas) as responding to a practical need—not wasting canvas and work—but rich with evocative suggestion. Each figure must play a new role, imagined beyond the grief in which they were originally conceived.

I wrote the poems in The Brighter House after my father’s death, and at first I wrote for my sisters, to give them words for experiences that hurt to speak. How to understand our dilemma when he lived and then when he died? How to reimagine life after the violence was well and truly over? I wanted to be, as the title suggests, a “brighter house,” but how to build this new architecture? I let the urgency of that question come into the poems themselves through myth and fairytale, beyond autobiographical details. I wanted the poems as a whole to speak to anyone who is trying to move from suffering—material, political, spiritual—to tenderness and trust.

Imagining ourselves into such a frame costs something. The work is hard and asks parts of ourselves to give up what they do naturally and reactively, to lay down our arms, to witness something new, to open our arms to life as a new birth. What I want to say, on page 69 or any page, to anyone doing such work is: It is always the first day.
Visit Kim Garcia's website.

The Page 69 Test: Madonna Magdalene.

--Marshal Zeringue