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.