The Sounding Machine
72pp., Accents Publishing
When I purchased The Sounding Machine a few weeks ago, I really had no idea what I was going to get. Before reading the book I had little experience with Patty Paine’s poetry. I primarily knew her work as an editor. When I receive the book and started to thumb through its pages, I was pleased to find a wide range of the types of poems I saw. I saw poetry which immediately intrigued me, made me look for a structure which might lend itself to the reading. What I found, as I started reading, was quite unexpected and quite lovely.
Patty Paine begins her collection simply enough, with an ars poetica poem which only later reveals itself as hallmark to the heavy lifting the reader is about to undertake in the pages which follow. “Arse Poetica” warns us we are not going to get everything we want. It tells us there will be subject matter not to be toyed with or taken lightly, that in fact:
there are days
when language is heavy
furniture you push around
a house made of nothing
Shortly after, Paine gives us entry into the description of her difficult childhood. A series of prose poems cuts the issue to the bone, describing the clash of two cultures, sickness, divorce, abuse, alienation, and the need for escape. In those brief prose poems lies the entire summation of an all too common experience with the culture shock which accompanies war time marriages. In these prose poems the concept of the vow is visited several times. Paine takes the reader on a difficult ride in just a few pages, but those pages are an essential history. As readers, we need to know that history in order to make sense of what comes next.
What follows is nothing short of astonishing. Paine proceeds, in a seemingly effortless transition between poems of memory and observation. At times, the poems appear airy and light, contradicting in appearance the gravitas of important issues. However, one should not be fooled into thinking this means some of the poetry in this book lacks purpose. Every poem stays on point, never letting you forget what is being discussed. In “Dogs,” one might be tempted to believe there might be a short rest from the path the poet has carved for herself, but that misconception fades when one reads:
Sometimes I feel
like a child with holes
in my pockets, every day losing
some small stone of myself.
While reading these poems there were moments I felt I was on some kind of Orphic journey where I was learning how to escape from the prison of a dysfunctional family. Of course, Paine is leading the way, but instead of the insecurity of Orpheus, Paine shows remarkable strength and dexterity, forging ahead to a place she knows without question, is indeed safe.
Ultimately, this is a book of healing, and there is much healed and much yet to be healed. For my part as a reader, the specificity of these poems, their clear voice makes me feel as if I have been given the gift of trust. Paine brings in the reader, gives over these revelations almost saying there now exists a record, but it’s more than that. She is saying I trust you enough to know these things about me and This is how I know all of us can survive. Having read these poems I have found some courage to perhaps re-tell some parts of my own history which I have avoided telling up to this point. I suspect you will come to some of these same conclusions when you read The Sounding Machine, and that is a good thing.