Certainty is the cage that keeps us safe from curiosity. I've been released from the cage. I am the songbird and I am flying for the window. I know it's closed but I plan on breaking through. – Charlie Coté, Jr. (1987-2005)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Two Reviews of Flying for the Window

Available here
Two reviews that I've always appreciated, ones I hadn't posted before:

Flying for the Window by Charles Coté
ISBN 978-1-59924-354-2
Finishing Line Press, 2008
The elegy is an old form; it dates back at least as far as Archilochus, a Greek poet born on the island of Paros over two thousand years ago. Although it was not until the mid-eighteenth century that the style found favor with English-speaking audiences in the form of Thomas Gray’s Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard, its history in English, it might be argued, is just as complex as that of its Greek antecedent. Charles Coté’s first collection, Flying for the Window, comprises poems that build on, respond to, and complicate the elegy as it is found in contemporary American poetry.
Much as in a collection I have previously reviewed, Taylor Altman’s Swimming Back, and in Claudia Emerson’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection Late Wife, Coté’s Flying for the Window is an extended apostrophe, an address to and concerning someone who has died. This lacuna of sorts—this vanished presence—permits Coté to explore emotional terrain that would be inaccessible were he speaking of or to his son while still alive; there are simply modes of expression we do not discover until after the person or persons with whom we wish to talk are no longer here. This lends a certain kind of honesty to the collection, and when combined with Coté’s starkness of language and expression makes for a powerful début collection.
Readers familiar with John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud, Though Some Have Called Thee” (Divine Sonnet X) and John Gunther’s memoir of the same title will be hard pressed not to bring both to bear in reading Flying for the Window; Gunther’s son, who died at approximately the same age as Coté’s, also succumbed to cancer, and both Gunther’s and Donne’s treatment of death and humility likely informed Coté as both a father and a poet.
I mention Emerson above, and I think it appropriate to close with part of her description of Coté’s collection. She writes: “Darkly beautiful, the volume itself is a finely made window on loss and its aftermath, the complexities of survival.” I could not have said it better myself.

Visit Finishing Line Press on the web at http://www.finishinglinepress.com/

Prick of the Spindle Poetry Editor Eric Weinstein recently graduated magna cum laude from Duke University with an AB in English and Philosophy. His writing has previously appeared in a variety of online and print publications, including The Archive,Wheelhouse Magazine, Prick of the Spindle, and Rainy Day. His poetry hasbeen nominated for inclusion in Pushcart Prize XXXIII: Best of the SmallPresses (2009). A native of New Hampshire, he currently lives in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

To Charlie Coté, RE: "Flying for the Window"

I really admire the stance your book takes, Charlie; how it asserts the known in the face of grief, a.k.a. the unknown. In your son's absence, you've examined other things more closely--crabapples, oak trees, birds--and let them be as they are, rather than investing them with more meaning than they're capable of handling. I learned much more about you than about Charlie, Jr., and that's a major component of the sadness of the book--that there was much about your son that was a mystery to you, too, a fact which the poems communicate with heart-aching precision. All of us are mysteries even to the people who love us and know us best, I think, and especially the young, who often seem to possess some kind of wisdom we've forgotten, even while they're in a state of major flux, the people they'll become waiting in the future. The sheer admiration you have for your son's gifts, so completely absent of jealousy or anger, breathes into the poems a voluminous warmth. Some grief poems rage, threatening to take the house with them; others, like yours, crackle in place, last longer.

True to your title, there is a sense of freedom in the poems, a sense of release and openness:

The world above worlds is a prairie
of clouds and sun glare.
Below, the smoldering hearths
shed smoke like irradiated hair.

I admire how unwilling this poem is (there's more of it, to those of you reading who aren't Charlie) to assert an afterlife. The speaker wants to, but cannot. He can only assert the things he sees, hence why heaven in the lines above sounds like a description from an airplane window. He is mortal, specific, subject to time and space, and by pointing out his mortality, he renders his son's mortality much more tangible. And the poem ends not with a question, but with a simple assertion of fact: "I play his red guitar." These are not philosophical musings, theories, conjectures, polemical argumentations, aesthetic stances, experiments--they are records of a man's experience, and if there is questioning, the questioning itself is part of that record, one person flummoxed/awed/disappointed/saddened by life--something he can't possibly hope to weave into a cogent answer, so he does the next best thing, he copies down the few things he can account for.

In other words, these are poems.

The book is available at amazon.com.

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