Reviewed by Karla Huston
I’m one of “those” readers who begins at the beginning of a volume of poems. I don’t page through, lighting on a title to stop to read only to flit off again. I do not read the end of the book first, although as I write this, I wonder, if perhaps I should.
While reading Sarah Sadie’s poems, I start at the start, but first, I read the narrative that scrolls across the bottom of the page like the Breaking News! crawl on national news-tainment channels.
A volume of poems unlike most, it has a sense of “other.” First, Sarah Sadie is the nom de poem used by Sarah Sadie Busse, Middleton, Wisconsin. It is appropriate she has named herself as such, since these poems are about of becoming, of defining and refining the self as (not?) “Middle-aged, middle-class, middle-western. [Middleton?] Flyover territory.”
“How can she paint a self-portrait. How can she paint anything but. I’m changing my name, she tells her husband. What’s changed? he asks.”
Sadie refines and redefines the narrator and the notion of poetry through language much like Hélène Cixous advances in her essay, “The Laugh of the Medusa,” where Cixous posits that women’s writing, even language itself is part of a phallocentric world, where women have no access to their own stories; she has no body, is nobody. Cixous suggests that a woman must “write her self” to find her self. Busse as Sarah Sadie has created an “other” persona to allow her to write as who she may be, may become. “I created a space for her to emerge, and then she created me.”
Everything about this book is different: the simple black cover, only the title announcing itself, no author name, nothing to name what’s inside, no page numbers. The back cover, the title in mirrored reverse, amplified by the forest of black lines that is the UPC code.
A book is a basket of deaths. Small ones.
A web with no spider (hide
her), this is the secret dilation,
Sadie challenges the middle ground of common experience with stylistic choices. Her poems are right justified, sections separations do not announce theme or guiding premise, but are part of a continuing narrative. The entire volume is a continuing narrative. The rhetoric that leads across the bottom is arranged to not only make its own meaning, but also to enhance what comes before. “Sometimes it’s right to resist the flow, the go go go.”
I’m reminded of a book I read in graduate school, Borderlands: La Frontera, by Gloria Anzaldúa, in which the author (this is over-simplification and shaky memory at work here) suggests that for cultures to truly understand one another, we must not simply cross borders but create a space to live within the border. Inside that space is where we find something new, frightening perhaps, but perhaps wonderful. Sadie’s poems live in those spaces, grow and thrive inside of what is known and what is newly discovered.
Within the borders of these two black covers is a woman, a poet, a mother, a wife, a teacher, all of her trying to create something meaningful. The narrator is a woman who has stepped into the border, a place in which she can create and/or reside.
the walled garden, the invitation,
an intimate penetration.
Let’s not lie or cover over.
It’s sexy as hell, what’s going on here.
Indeed, this is what is going on here. This is a woman finding her way through or to her new normal, her becoming. These are poems of a domestic exterior life—though Sadie is no domestic diva; she freely admits her frustrations—set against a private interior life rife with questions.
“Where are we again? How did we get here? Where is the exit?” … “If she could move from thread and grocery lists to questions of destiny, love, death—but life/interrupts …”
Any blessing carries its shadow, sometimes for years
folded like the wings of a bat at noon.
How grateful I am, friends, for that shared memory,
now that I have reached another interior shore,
this time alone, and again to strip down,
whatever I thought I could carry in, again
to enter the still and waiting waters.
To call Sarah Sadie’s book delightful wouldn’t do it justice. Thoughtful—requiring thought, perhaps. Wise. Or startling (where to start?). Wonderful or full of wonder. You decide, but let words, meaning, the familiar strangeness work their magic.
Start at the start with this volume, and whether you read the poems first, the crawling narrative second or in any order of your choosing, let these poems resonate—which is what good poetry should do. Notice how words and images thread and move in ways both artful and unexpected. Words can be an act of creation. Understand that “We are far beyond nouns.”
Karla Huston, Poet Laureate of Wisconsin (2017-2018), is the author of a full collection of poems A Theory of Lipstick (Main Street Rag Publications: 2013) and eight chapbooks, most recently, Grief Bone (Five Oaks Press: 2017). Winner of a Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses award in 2011, Huston’s poems, reviews and interviews have been published widely. This review originally appeared in Wisconsin People & Ideas, Vol. 62, No. 4. Fall 2016.