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Equipoise: Poems

Equipoise: Poems

by Kathleen Halme

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Equipoise, Kathleen Halme's second book of poems. Based in fact on the North Carolina coastline, the climate of these poems is one abundant with sun, salt water, and the paradoxical shore. Equally at home in formal meter and free verse, Halme explores the balancing pull of forces and discovers a refreshing version of mindfulness in daily life. Despite


Equipoise, Kathleen Halme's second book of poems. Based in fact on the North Carolina coastline, the climate of these poems is one abundant with sun, salt water, and the paradoxical shore. Equally at home in formal meter and free verse, Halme explores the balancing pull of forces and discovers a refreshing version of mindfulness in daily life. Despite contemporary trends of cynicism and despair, Halme braves happiness. Even as she acknowledges that "We all live in fear/of shoreless feelings," such anxiety succumbs to her inclusive vision: "We are in the soup, singular/and swimming, roiling/with the isopods and copepods./ . . . We are delicious, surrendered to shells and jellies,/ every one soaking in sun."

For readers eager to experience "the ache of paradise," these poems chart consciousness with obvious pleasure: "Are you not a lucky one/you who hear your own mind think." But here is an intellect made lyrical. To celebrate the sensual core of experience, Halme's seemingly spare language is lush with assonance. In these poems, vowels have a cumulative effect, resounding, finally, in a grandiose vocative o of astonishment and joy.

Kathleen Halme's first book of poetry, Every Substance Clothed, winner of the 1995 University of Georgia Press Contemporary Poetry Series competition, was awarded the Balcones Poetry Prize. She completed her MFA in Creative Writing at the University of Michigan, where her work was awarded the Hopwood Creative Writing Award. Halme is a 1997-98 recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Poetry Fellowship. She is associate professor of English at Western Washington University in Bellingham.

"Here is a volcanically poised and deliciously balanced book of meditative graces, of provisional lyric holdings, of sumptuous meditations shored against the ruins."-Edward Hirsch

"Most prominent is Halme's sensual commitment to language; her poems resonate with a phonetic lushness illuminating her intelligent imagery. These poems are enjoyable most notably for the pleasure of pure sound. . . . Gently peppered into her poems are flavors of mysticism, portrayed by an efficient and clever selection of words, which result in a pleasurable and unexpected unfolding. Overall, these poems

Editorial Reviews

The Boston Sunday Globe
In her tour-de-force second book of poems, Calbert is a poet deliciously out on a limb. . . . She is brilliant, acrobatic, swooping above, around, and below. . . . Calberts strength is in her merciless, inescapable voicereminiscent in some ways of Sylivia Plath or Anne Sextonand the furious, focused ways she uses the first person to tell stories. In Bad Judgment, Cathleen Calbert dazzles, wounds, and delights.
Colorado Springs Independent
Her language is precise and a little bit rowdy. These are street-smart poems dealing with what it means to be humanto win a few, lose a few, and survive it all. Bad Judgment is good poetry.
Calberts second book . . . is a searching, sometimes seething look at the traditions of love and marriage, revealing a strong voice adept in the use of irony. . . . With an elegance reminiscent of Whitman, these poems celebrate the singer as vigorously as they do the song. The result: lyrics that are witty, cynical, sharp-edged, stunning. . . . Part of the pleasure of reading Calberts poetry is watching her play: with language, with sound, with tradition, with the reader. Bad Judgment? Hardly. This is a wise book: sexy, witty, irreverent, and filled with moments of brilliance, carefully crafted by a poet who loves the sweet suck of consenting molecules so much she cant help revealing the comic absurdity and beauty of the resulting collisions.
Poet Lore
Who wouldnt be glad to come upon its playful language. . . ? Calbert is searching here for meaning and connection. Arent we all? But to this common quest she brings an uncommon colloquial elegance, using nothing more than ordinary words we know and feel.
New York Times Book Review
The collection builds beautifully, subtly changing shape. . . . Calberts poems are wrought from straightforward, serviceable language with the occasional welcome curlicue, and most have an easy narrative drive. Many of them are about tentatively yearning for love but hoping not to have to admit it; others are about finding it and realizing how fragile and valuable it is.
Award-winner and author of Lessons in Space (1997), Cathleen Calberts newest anthology reveals a spectrum of emotions; from . . . poems of loss and longing in My Dead Boyfriend and Bad Judgment to Lunatic Snow, which is contemplative and leaves one with a smile. Calbert takes everyday real experiences and combines them with a surrealistic tone to create a very deep, thought-provoking experience for the reader. . . . This collection of Calberts poetry would be a wonderful addition for high school classrooms as well as for the avid poetry connoisseur.
Mid-America Poetry Review
A radical geometry of thought that celebrates chaos and feminism.
Library Journal
In Halme's (Every Substance Clothed) straightforward book of poetry, the female protagonist lives on the North Carolina coast and experiences rapture, beauty, and only an occasional edginess. Sex and sensuality are taken in stride, as in 'Growing Accustomed to the Dark,' where embedded in a litany of ordinary sights, a girl is 'relieved of the burden of virginity' in one line. In 'Plain Poem,' an elderly man who has lost his bearings wanders into 'a true, Easter egg morning' and falls asleep on an unfamiliar porch. When the police come 'there is no balking or pushing to be seen/ as we turn and go inside to have spring sex.' Life seems easy in these poems as anxiety is subsumed by physical beauty. This is a good book to escape with if one isn't focused on the social issues of our day. -- Ann K. van Buren, New York University, School of Continuing Education
Kirkus Reviews
The second book of poems by the author of Every Substance Clothed (1995) takes much of its inspiration from the North Carolina coastline, where Halme often lingers on the beach and, as the title poem makes clear, where she enjoys the solitude of staying in a lighthouse. The short lyric poems in this fine collection celebrate autonomy, and the virtues of a life unfettered by children and objects. "Autotomy," one of the weaker poems, directly mocks "breeders," and boasts of the poet's breasts, grown for "pleasure." Elsewhere, especially in a few odd pastorals, Halme exults in her sexuality, but her general aesthetic is quite simple as she asserts in "Plain Poem": "I get full beauty in moments in fleshes." Many of her best, often formal, verses begin with a phrase from Marvell, though her conceits are more sensual than metaphysical. "Grace," a typical piece, links things the poet sees while eating at a seaside restaurant: boys coupling on the beach, dolphins looping, and an odd wave formation. If goldfish could cure Narcissus ("Pushing Narcissus"), she wonders what could solve the marital blues of a neighboring couple ("Antidote to Adultery"). Halme's slighter poems often venture from the hermetic coastal world she best limns-in "Objects of Desire," she strains for an allusion to war-torn Bosnia-and her longer poems merely accrete details. Halme seeks "the ache of paradise" in some unlikely places, and in verse that's often smart and agreeable. .

Product Details

Sarabande Books
Publication date:
Edition description:
1 ED
Product dimensions:
6.10(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.30(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

We Grow Accustomed to the Dark

No one
would know of this.

Two boys idling
an aqua speedboat
did not say no
to the simple question from the dock;

we stepped off,
and shot down
the black sash of river

past the tourist battleship
and the alligator circus,
past the raw bar's open
ears of oysters,
past the ladyghost in the library,
past five high church spires,
past the cotton shop
where we bought summer
floating on our bodies,
past her street, Orange, and
past my street, Ann,
past the live oaks dangling Spanish moss,
past the girl under the live oaks
now relieved of the burden of her virginity,
past the stone wall's fondled holes for cannons,
past the square where slaves in chains were sold,
past the peanut stand and beaded pigeons,
past the scrapyard's parts
of redbrown merchant ships,
past the swampside's hulls of wooden boats,

past the fresh babies, and sound sleepers,
the glubbing clay pipes of plumbing,
and cloth-covered wiring,
past the slack lights
of all the last houses,

down the black sash of river,
back down, all the way to ocean.

Where the Cape Fear Empties into Ocean

In last week's big weather the ocean ate
the gazebo at the fat beach.
Sunday again, they're back:
the fast-food families, staking
claims in swimsuits big as sails.

Plant that cooler of salt snacks and fizz.
Stick that watermelon umbrella
on your little edge of ocean. In the shifting
continental drift of cellulose
we all want the primal dip.

Already a boy has found a baby shark.
He walks it like a clarinet, its jaw
a squeaking reed. The little primate
sneaks behind beached sleepers,
and plays the shark at their butts.

It's too soon to make a fuss:
we're a bit crabby this morning.
I grow nails and teeth,
unroll below the sea oats, and run
with my real husband into ocean.

Can you still touch? Yes, can you?
we ask until everyone in water
has dissolved below the shoulders.
Above us all, a whalish blimp chubs by
to tell us where to eat tonight.

Below us all,
the bottom dips
down in drift and
we're afloat with
plankton in the neap tide.

Bolted into hunger
we can't fight,
the current floats
us soaked with water.
We can't see

the larval mollusks,
the small sea cucumbers,
invisible to the naked
eye, drifting in
our extraneous suits.

We are in the soup, singular
and swimming, roiling
with the isopods and copepods.
We are motile, every one
of us buoyant

as bubbles
in the tidal cycle. Who can see
our feet kicking
over a great heart
cockle pumping water

into gills, over bulging
ark shells straining
plankton? We are delicious,
surrendered to shells and jellies,
every one soaking in sun.

Lilies Showering Down


On that island, I was learning what I loved:
a little life for an animal with eggs.
Clean as a peppermint, I gave off light!

I was slow as soap, my simplicity astounding.
Consider how infinite I was,
walking every inch of that orchid-shaped island:

no jangled thoughts, I knew only elegances:
a storm's wash pinks the beach with jellyfish;
in the salt marsh, visible in water,

a seahorse, small as a baby's finger,
wraps its tail around a reed to stay in place,
or possibly, for pleasure.


From way out in the ocean, he came
like a rower, pulling himself in wood
all the way to me.

He loved salt: three-hundred-year-
old meat, the block, the fingertip.
My lips were salt air sea.

I thought: hummingbird.
Miraculous verb, one could be
drawn to land on his salted palm.

Am I at all mysterious to you? he asked.
The blue notion fumed
until it flickered open utterly.

He gave and gave,
then led me close to trumpets
thread on devil's green;

I went under as the open sun
vined up the old snake shack
high at the rim of the sea.


Below the fathers drape their mended nets to dry,
the mothers hang bleached
white by white and blue by blue.

I eat provisions I've collected for confinement:
jewel box of fish, a fist of soda bread,
some licorice pipes--black and undeniable.

I sleep alone on the circumference.
These lighthouse walls are five feet thick.
In hurricanes, a town could hide inside,
but this storm abides with me.

Island Incarnation

I have seen a king snake whip and twist itself around
a longer rattlesnake, and when the other's
gorgeous hiss and length went limp,
as the moment spread itself out holy,
and the sea grass bristled a scraping lisp,
I have seen the king make straight
the long black wand of rattler and take her in headfirst:
a gradual assumption of saintly concentration,
until I have seen the very tip, the crenellated rattle
--black cowrie tossed back into the only ocean--
disappear inside the waves of snake.


The black fish undressed easily on their blue plates.
Smug in love, they went ahead and ordered
chocolate layer cake to celebrate the Red.

Outside the picture window, February blew and bounced
the sun across a beach. Saint Valentine.
She thought about the things she'd like to buy.

Below, three boys in black wet suits were stretching in new skins.
They looped and tossed each other closer to the surf; two coupled
while the other watched, then they recoupled and were watched.

What is there to fear in men? All seed and sullen play, she thought.
And then she saw a crowd of dolphins loop and toss,
fins circling like saws through the sea of possible thought.

Next, there was a moment, not much farther out into the ocean,
when she saw the sea do something strange.
Not much farther out, where water came to water,

she saw the waves turn over and open an old caesura in the sea.
On the meniscus of the moment she was alive in,
a black cut fissured into form.

Is anyone here not innocent? she asked herself, and glasses
cloth folded, and a fish left its skeleton on a blue plate,
as the slipknot pulled again around the ache of paradise.

Betwixt the Flames and Waves

A line of brown pelicans
like folding chairs
flew above
their love corpuscular.

The couple looked awkward
and contemporary,
as if sex were in it
and they were scared.

On the undeveloped beach
they sidestepped jellyfish,
clear and small
as babies' brains.

Shell scrack, shellfish,
mermaid's purse:
everything said big.
Soon they would come to touch.

Another moment and
they would
turn to one and other.
Around their feet,

under ocean, water
licked ten thousand
reps of fleurs-de-lys,
in an old design.

The couple felt
ridiculous and clean.
Waves slapped a ring
between them in the sand.

No one made a move.
How had it happened
that they had lost
the motions?

What People are Saying About This

Hayden Carruth
Can heartlessness harbor anything besides itself, you ask? Then as you read these poems you discover what a great, despairing compassion underlies Cathleen Calberts view of our rotten world. These are truly extraordinary poems.
Edward Hirsch
Here is a volvanically poised and delicately balanced book of meditative graces. . .of sumptuous meditations shored against ruins.

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