Alice in Greenpoint by Iva Ticic (Finishing Line Press)
In contemporary poetry, this book comes as a much needed breath of fresh air. A book of roughly about 28 pages — as a debut collection, it deserves to be read and savoured for every word that it contains.
The book has been divided into two sections and the poems under each section echo the titles that the sections have been given. The first section is titled Listening to the Wind Argue with Frost and the poems that evoke the past. The book opens with The Sirens, a poem that brings up a memory and the “song” that surrounds everything and has a powerful effect on whatever it touches. Homer makes an entry and adds that touch of tragedy which forms an integral part of the poem. The idea of a rebel is born, only to be stifled again and the role of a “community” gains importance for understanding how that concept holds its grip on people. There is no place for an individual; the collective is what is expected.
…the river of neighbors, descending together
in dignified haste.
Memory and the part it plays — to either make us forget certain things or make us remember or even “imagine” certain memories and create them has been beautifully expressed in Ticic’s poem The Gift, where the poet waits for a “gift” that has been sent by her mother but never reaches her. The first half of the poem has the poet imagining the long journey the gift is taking to reach her; how the postman is ambushed with “cinnamon cookies and orange slices” leaving the poet with a future that is “inevitable.” The deterioration of the gift is imagined and now the poet addresses her mother directly telling her that the gift hasn’t arrived. She has waited for years to receive it. What sets this poem apart from the rest of the poems is that at the surface level, it might come across as someone waiting for a gift that hasn’t reached the intended — maybe got lost and the wait finally comes to an end. But that is not what the poem is all about — it is about that contact the poet yearns for. The agents of change — the postman and the postal dwarves — do nothing but act as buffers against the reality that finally strikes, that there will be no contact. The situation is Godot-like. You continue to wait but will anyone turn up?
The poems are nostalgic but most of the characters that are introduced remain unnamed. By not naming the people in her work, Ticic is able to assign them roles that are fluid in nature. Making guacamole as described in one of the poems shows the fragility of relationships; the effect it has on people. The mess that a relationship can leave you in and the pretence of everything being fine — the preparing of a face for the world and the disintegration of the “self” at the same time
A punctured ripened fruit, a glass
of red wine, a sunlit counter
The idea that everything is fine extends to how one conducts oneself in the world and how that very idea starts eating one away as you go along trying to be fine — the celebrations that form a part of one’s growing up are questioned. A day of celebration becomes just another day
…where no cookies are dipped into milk
Where no family gathers to carol His birth?
The nexus between belief in something and the logic that defies it is created and there are no sides that are taken. There are judgements that are passed. The falling snow outside the poet’s house “does not care” for the choices that the poet has made. Any abstinence from the world — from the celebratory mode — is a self-imposed one.
The sense of loss finds its way in this beautiful poem — It is a Joy to Be Hidden, but a Disaster Not to Be Found –– the emptiness that walks side by side — the experiences that one goes through and how not all of them can help one grow. We are all “madmen” and we are all “genius” — we all walk that fine line that separates the two and we can be both. The need to be alone but it is not necessary to hide to be alone — the need to be a part of it all and still be distant. The way Ticic uses images makes one step out of one’s comfort zone and look at those familiar objects as not just pieces that adorn one’s house but as repositories of one’s past. A sofa evokes memories and acts as a “sofa skeleton” that locks up memories from the past inside it
…the creaky lullabies, unfolding- to calm.
Family plays an important role in Ticis’s poems and the past is brought up and not stowed away to be taken out at convenient occasions. Nor are they bottled up and kept in shelves for years to be marinated. The hard hitting poems do not let the reader get comfortable. Home is integral in Ticic’s work and the poems will make the reader sit up and take notice.
The second section of the book, The Strange Weight opens with a haunting poem, The Interpreter, translating the hum, the poet longs to be a part of the music that a piano creates that someone has composed.
I want to become
a part of your conversation
between the pulse
of your fingertip symphony…
The focus then shifts to words in the next poem that talks about the translation of certain words and fail at getting to the meaning of it as the words change their meanings according to the setting — five words — simple ones but holding a deep connection for the poet — the Croatian identity running across her works comes out beautifully when Ticic tries to explain the meaning of these words as what they mean to her — how they are tied up with a sense of home, a sense of simplicity, a sense of what constitutes as a taboo, a sense of how it feels to lose one’s innocence, and finally how grief and solace are tied up. These various definitions are spread across the book but come together in this poem where the poet tries to make sense of them.
The poem that is also the title of the book — Alice in Greenpoint — reminds one of T.S Eliot’s poems and Ticic recreates a wonderland where surrounded by materiality — one wants to be a part of it; one cannot escape it, one continues to live in those moments
White rabbits and grinning cats
Are staring to be born
In the pregnant pauses of the evening.
But this “Alice” is different — she sees through the hole — in seeing the “odd imperfections” we as people continue to inhabit and call home.
Memories turn into a dense fog and once wrapped in it, comes a hauntingly beautiful poem as The Movie Theater Has Forgotten How to Dream — a father-daughter relationship is looked at alongside the relationship with an invisible friend, an imaginary one. The loneliness that is felt in the company of others cannot be overlooked in this poem. It speaks to the reader provided the reader is observing the part words play to conceal it. The bringing to life of a movie theater is to bring to life those one loved and has now lost. Those one shared one’s life with even if they existed in one’s imagination — those who were a part of one’s lost self.
“A life is being altered” — as the last poem reveals to the reader and as a reader one senses that change as one finishes reading this poem. Nostalgia, sorrow, confusion, a sense of belonging — all wound up like a ball of wool that exists inside the poet and the book attempts to unravel all of these slowly and does it well. The book asks the reader if these emotions can be successfully unraveled. Can one understand what the other goes through when he/she pens down a poem to express a side of them that was hidden away?
Ticic keeps her poems simple; the words and the images they invoke are relatable but her identity as a Croatian glows through her works, adding a fascinating quality to the poems. Her sense of belonging to a lost world is retrieved and brought to life by usage of particular terms that does not let the reader fall comfortably into known worlds. This is Ticic’s world and she intends to keep it that way — allowing the reader to enter for a while — take it all in — but not become a part of it. And this is what makes this collection of poems worth treasuring. Nowhere does she force the reader to feel what she feels; she invites the reader to have a look and then leaves it to the reader to either submit to it or be a passerby with eyes filled with worlds that were otherwise kept under wraps.
Alice in Greenpoint is available for orders at Finishing Line Press’s website.