Kristy Bowen’s newest poetry collection, the shared properties of water and stars, tells the story of trapped people. Told in interconnected prose poems that look and feel like the pages of a miniature story book, Bowen creates a poetic landscape for which her fairy tale archetypes may play. Set in an idyllic suburbia, Bowen’s characters move through the expected planes of their life like ghosts, willing to make meaningful changes to their tedious existences but lacking the power to do so. Rabbits and bears mark property lines and staircases with their animal scents; light sockets spew water thus changing the delineation of human cohabitation. Wild animals constantly creep around the peripheries human vision and won’t shut up at night.
eddies and pools in the hollows of her
bedroom. The bears make too much noise at
night, tipping garbage cans and lowing in the
dark. She dreams a lake at the bottom of a
staircase. Dreams a door at the bottom of a lake.
Burgeoning with these unfulfilled pressures of expectation and culture, there is little for human beings to do except bang on the glass. Bowen’s characters are steered toward violent action on their lives in order to make meaningful change, but it does little good. Even those who seem to have escaped the confines of prescribed human-ness fall prey to othering, deemed too animalistic for human interaction:
hands become useless scissors, bandaged and
bleeding through the next summer. He sets
them loose in the forest, where they take sides
with the bears, all domestic things gone feral
and rabid at the mouth.
The people in Bowen’s poems are sad for reasons that are all too familiar, and that’s the collection’s driving force. Their couched sorrow makes me love them. I too feel like the animals are creeping in, or perhaps human life is keeping me from going outdoors and being an animal. A connection is made. This is an easy way to identify with art, through shared experience or emotion, but it is powerful, too. I am existing with them in their immutable suburbia.
IF one box holds a nest of lace and another
box holds a canary, at what point do they
converge? At one point do the bears and
their noses sniff out the blood?
What I think makes all of this possible, is that the shared property of water and stars does act like a story. I was compelled to move through the pages as a story. I was concerned about what was going to happen next and why the characters were behaving as they were. This experience is often missing for me when I sit down to read poetry. People removed from the first person is a rare gift in poetry, especially done well. More so, Bowen’s collection makes her readers question, as all good poems should, what exactly a poem looks and acts like. And while these poems look and behave as a story with one page leading alternatively to the next, they are inexplicably poems. The focus is language rather than the narrative and I feel like this is incredibly important. These poems are both lyric and narrative, creating tilted & musical worlds of images. Even so, Bowen’s blurred boundaries are necessary. Hybridity combines the best of two things, which I feel like Bowen’s prose poems have done. Engrossing, surprising, and inexplicably sad, the shared properties of water and stars is like a strange feeling one doesn’t know what to do with, so it gets stuff away in a drawer to examine later:
like a hum, a snowiness in the brain. She puts
this feeling in a box and scribbles an X on it.
Is absent and dreaming when the bear boy
climbs through her window, falls asleep at the
base of the staircase.
the shared properties of water and stars’ dreamy suburbia is a good choice for anyone looking for poems that create worlds or are looking for crafted interior spaces to inhabit outside the self. Filled with story archetypes and pieces from fairy tales, each poem acts as a poetic landscape or stage, where the objects and settings are just important as the players. Amongst cheery houses and quaint ghosts, Bowen’s characters move both sullenly and wildly, marking the complexity of their status as human beings. Their sadness resonates through dimensions, and their world exists surely as ours does, reflecting like a lake. Fairy tales haven’t always been happy, and Bowen is reminding her readers this by digging up the darker roots. The outdoors cannot be fenced in.
the shared properties of water and stars, by Kristy Bowen. Buffalo, New York: Noctuary Press. 50 pages. $14.00, paper.
M. Forajter is a recent MFA Poetry graduate from Columbia College Chicago. Her work has appeared in The Columbia Poetry Review, Black Tongue Review, and Radioactive Moat.