Friend and MFA classmate Michelle Bitting just published her first chapbook, Blue Laws, with Finishing Line Press. I have pored over Michelle’s poems-in-progress during workshop, but it was a very different experience to regard this outstanding collection of finished poems, carefully arranged.
From the opening poem about her brother’s suicide, I was riveted. Michelle knows how to make a strong impact by staring life squarely in the face. However, in this collection, she also demonstrates great focus and care, commitment to each aspect of each story as it unfolds–line by line, and poem by poem–into something far more expansive than any straight narrative could hold.
In a poem like “The Sacrifice,” Bitting realizes some of the best results any single-stanza, free-verse poem can aspire to achieve–the careful build-up to a remarkable conclusion, a human revelation. She addresses the memory of her mother sewing costumes for her junior high play–“diaphanous number cut from a swell of black crepe,” building up to address her mother “in the hushed cool of your reserved seat, … the little bobbin of your heart / spinning inside its quiet nook while you watched me / do the hard, privileged work of feeling for both of us.” The poem is as tight as her mother’s stitch work, spoken with veracity and the best kind of sincerity–the kind that looks unflinchingly at the complexity of what is.
I am also invested in the themes explored in this book: grief, parenthood, and the trials of a a sensitive consciousness in the mundane brutality of this world–from dental surgery and her son’s autism to the horrors of the nightly news. This is a praiseworthy collection, sparkling with observation–worth picking up and taking in. A quick search of the blogosphere shows that one poet has already, in reading this book, identified Michelle as her hero. Bitting has accomplished what I hope one day to emulate: a remarkable, even heroic, debut.