Hum

Published By: Penguin (Non-Classics)

Book Category: Non-Fiction, Poetry

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Reviewed by Kathleen J. Pettit

Ann Lauterback is an adventurer who takes us on a journey into the unknown with her poetry. She writes in fragments, leaving yawning gaps for us to bridge in this new territory. At least, for me, her poetry is new territory. For one who is most familiar with narrative, lyrical poetry, Lauterback's work in Hum is not easy. But like the children's book Where's Waldo?, when you find Waldo, when you find the phrase that makes the connection, you feel like you have found the pot of gold at the end of the journey.

Her imagery is sometimes startling, sometimes exquisitely beautiful, and sometimes brutal. In the poem "Luck," she says "The day, you see, Huge, like Texas." Then she describes the stillness of birds in the presence of a hawk:

The small birds were still
as without life
to escape the eye of the hawk.

She again talks of the hugeness of Texas, like Bach, only this time she refers to the motion of Bach's music as never still but seems "as if out of the earth's orbit." She ends the poem with the statement "The thing in the sky broke up," referring, I believe, to the shuttle breaking up over Texas. She goes from hawks to Bach to the tragedy of the shuttle on that clear, large day in Texas.

Many of the poems in Hum reference music, writers and other art forms. Part of the journey is looking up these references and learning about other artists and their work. In the section of the book called "Impossible Blue," she references the painter, Giotto, the place, Memento Mori (Berlin), and Emily Dickenson. She dedicates her poems to other poet-writer-painter-critics such as Michael Brenson, Norma Cole and Garrett Kalleberg. The poems and the dedication move one to explore other poetic terrains.

Lauderback's work in Hum is not easy for those of us who are not familiar with this experimental form of writing. It is full of fragments of thought, image, and asides both on the page and when spoken. I found that reading her out loud gave me the best sense of her work. It is experimental contemporary poetry. It is brutal. It is beautiful. And it is most satisfying to traverse this new terrain.

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