Welcoming in the Starry Night… by Karen Holman

Welcoming in the Starry Night of the Lightning Bees is the third short book in the fourth volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Karen Holman is a social worker in Detroit whose clients include the mentally ill. In the final poem to Saint Dymphna, patron saint of the mentally afflicted, the speaker tells us, “Those afflicted in their minds collect and assemble the words they hope will save them. Their sentences tangle but I have a knack with ciphers. In response to their pleas I weave tapestries of words. Speaking plainly to you now is luxurious.”

Holman does employ plain speech. The opening poem admires the onion for its “frank gaze.” Like Acts of Contrition, the poems in this collection touch upon the relationship between mother and daughter–allegorically through the myth of Persephone and Demeter, and directly through narrative poems like “No Mood” and “Arguing With My Mother Over My Father’s Ashes.”

Holman also questions the trustworthiness of plain speech in this collection. “After the Ark” is an experimental prose poem that employs the strike-through to convey the impact of narrative revisionism:

I walk backward and drop a shawl over my mother’s nakedness. My mother is being beaten. I cover her nakedness. My mother is left for dead. I cover her nakedness. My mother runs away from home. Mother on the day father died in the house. I cover her…

The effect here is actually that of underscoring the stricken-out sentences, heightening their impact and veracity by the very fact of the speaker wanting them to have been removed. Such revision, left intact, creates two layers that function simultaneously in the poem–the plainspoken and frank, which is lined out, and the sanitized version that remains, and which echoes the biblical story of Noah’s drunkenness, wherein his sons covered his nakedness.

Holman also employs more dream-like, surreal language, as in the poem “Catching My Death Of,” which narrates the speaker’s parachute-less fall from an airplane. In “Letter to the Wound Dresser,” the wounded awakens to “flies / democratic as the mercy of God.” It is through the dream-like that Holman finds a more trustworthy language, and one which transcends words.

As the speaker says to her brother in a poem about dandelions, “I blow into your ear / to make you dream of wind.”

Welcoming in the Starry Night of the Lightning Bees is available in New Poets | Short Books Volume IV from Lost Horse Press. Read more reviews from the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series.