Cadences by Kitty Jospé

Kitty Jospé’s debut collection Cadences is a chapbook with a mission: all proceeds from its sale go to the charity Women Helping Girls. Fittingly, the collection touches on mother-daughter issues (including the “in-law” variety). In particular, I am drawn to the way poems juxtaposed in the second section unfold like a map of the emotional landscape of daughterhood, and one daughter in particular coming to terms with her mother’s mental illness.

In “Pulling at the Dark,” the younger daughter is doing her math homework upstairs when her mother “stomps into the rain-slicked night / slamming the door / so it shivers in its frame, / her head screwed tight with a quart of Jim Beam, / her hands held out as if to tear off headlights– // Stop bugging my house, she roars / with a rake of rigid fingers as if to dig noise, like dirt, / out of the night.” The daughter goes out after her, and observes rough tenderness as, “The policeman grabs her, / pulls the sleeves of the wool sweater down / so the handcuffs won’t bite into her wrists.”

Next, in “Visiting Day,” the daughter visits the presumably older mother in an institution where she “tells me it’s not safe around there and Rita has absconded / with one of her sneakers and Claire stole the sheet of paper / where she was making words out of NOTICE. / I had a whole list– / ice, tone, tin, tine, tic, ten, cent, once.” The daughter enters the mother’s world of word-making, picking a different sign and, collaboratively, “we start making words from it, / hinges for a story, / once, text, note, lonely.”

It seems for Jospé, words are just this–hinges for a story, keyholes into rooms. I remember this delight in word-play from our time together in the Pacific University Master of Fine Arts in Writing program. She has since honed this delight into an accessible and meaningful craft in itself, as in “Liubilu:”

Liubilu, to echo love you
with a subtle b
like the saddle-red glaze,
gold-flecked bark
in today’s stray light,

pulls in, gathers skeins of sound,
hollow whorls of thought
for the wind to unwrap
into word.

Most admirable, though, is how this word-love fuses with deeper human meaning, bringing the keen narrative observation of the mother-daughter poems together with an equally well-tuned and playful ear, as in “When I say first frost etches / the curl of leaf in shards of white, / pollen no longer streaks / the pale coat of our old, old dog. // I mean to say how time / pocks the field with brown burrs / strips down the woods, / how the sun streaks its light, / strips shadows off the trees.”

This is a rich first collection by an American poet with strong pan-European, especially French, influences, ranging in theme everywhere words strike notes, sounds make meaning, through the many descending cadences of our lives.

Hand-bound editions are available from Foothills Publishing.