Let's Not Sleep by C.J. Sage
Dream Horse Press, 2002 (ISBN 0965930734)

      Reading Let's Not Sleep, I had the kind of reaction one only gets from a first book when you have no preconceptions about the poet's body of work.  It was a feeling of total connection, and of discovery the way Ferlinghetti must have felt the first time he saw the manuscript for Ginsberg's Howl.  I had a sense all through this book that I was reading something extraordinary and that, even so, it could only be described as a preface for something even greater to come.
      Of course Sage's work can be found in such notable journals as The Seattle Review and The Bitter Oleander, not to mention her piece "Cubist's Nude, Reclined" that appears in the Winter 2001 issue of The Adirondack Review.  Nonetheless, reading one poem here and there only hints at the charisma of her writing.  This collection captures more than hints.  It invites the reader into a small square of her psyche.  It bounces between the erotic and the political.  It observes and meditates.  It dangles the world in front of you like a cat's toy on a string, then jerks it away just when you think you have it in your grasp. 
      Many of Sage's poems such as "Nocturne" and "Love" are intensely sensual.  They have internal sexual kinesis that stirs the body as quickly as the mind of the reader, like for example these lines from "Caliber":

          My mouth's a .45
             with bashful angles.

             If your fingers squeeze
             firmly, they'll catch

             in the barrel.

      As soon as you start to think you understand Sage's energy, her intensity, in these poems, however, she switches to a more political approach, meditating on animal rights, abuse, and female-empowerment themes, or else she shows a more subtle eye studying carefully as in "An Exile of Small Stars" or "A Translation of Flowers":

          They are hundreds,
             they are blooms of runes

             that shake the burlap dusk;
             the air flowers and clings to their reeds.

      At her best Sage attempts all these things at once.  The sensual, the studied, the political -- these all come together at times in poems as passionate as they are provocative.  "How to Tell a God" is such a poem, as are "How to do it all Wrong" and "Say you Love Your Husband."  But nowhere is it accomplished more perfectly than in "Song for a Red-dyed Sunflower."  It touches all the themes Sage handles so well , yet explores them in simple statements that one can understand, visualize, perhaps even relate to at times, as in these lines:

          One day I dyed
             my yellow hair vein-red,

             sacrificed expensive light
             to a man who loves redheads.

      Let's Not Sleep is as close to being a perfect first book as I can imagine, not having seen too many of them over the years.  It reads well from beginning to end, and stands up to its own nostalgia on a second trip through.  Let's Not Sleep is a book of large dimensions, figuratively and literally (its 7 x 10-inch frame makes it unusually broad for a poetry collection). 
      Recommendation: Buy this book.  In fact, go see the author at one of her readings and buy it there.
LET'S NOT SLEEP by C.J. Sage
next review
previous review
Book Reviews by Ace Boggess
Reviewed Jan. 31, 2002
TAR
Stars
Stars
Stars
Stars
Stars
Send this review to a friend
More book reviews at TAR