The Rim Benders by Lola Haskins
Anhinga Press, 2001 (ISBN 0938078704)

      As the epigram from the title poem of this collection notes, rim benders shape the strip of wood for a grand piano's casing which "must be matched to the curve of the frame."  Likewise Haskins shapes a volume of poems equally art and craft, at once a thing of beauty and a pragmatic tool for conveying her message.  She builds her lyrical concerto from that first poem introducing us to the piano at birth then takes the audience on a wild ride in many directions that always, as with symphony or scale, return at last to tonic.  Though Haskins takes the reader to her home in Florida or up into the heavens for a meteor shower, again and again she leads them back to the book's first note.  The piano theme recurs throughout this collection, in poems such as "The Landscape of the Piano" or the wonderfully descriptive "Keys":

      Whites lie like little coffins.

        The black keys plot revolution,
        the piano exploding into flowers

      The piano is not the only instrument at play here.  One also listens for the beating of the human heart which at times seems mute but at others comes with emphasis as in these lines from "Breaking":

        You have lived.
        I, he, she, they have lived.
        Someone else will live,
               will find what you have scattered,
        will pick the lost stars up
               like shy and tiny fish,
                      will throw them back.

      The Rim Benders is a compelling symphony for the printed page.  The reader will find it hard to accept silence until the final chords have sounded.  Too, it moves along quickly in bursts. There are none of the lengthy short-stories-in-verse so popular in literary journals these days.  Every poem is only as long as it needs to be to make its point or reveal its scene before moving on.
      Of course, the many directions the poems take can be distracting at times.  If the book has any flaw, it is that rarest flaw that comes from the author's obvious strength: her mastery and use of different styles.  At times the book is internally inconsistent.  Haskins changes suddenly to write brief prose poems such as "Tickets to 'The Crying Game'" or a series of Ginsbergesque musings scattered throughout with titles such as "For," "Against," and "Of":

      Of the angels       Of the parson made from the spinal bone of a horse
        Of the parson's painted face, its eyes worn off and,
        behind the cassock, the black painted wings

        Of wings that swoop at dusk

While these were my personal favorites in the collection, they added just enough discord to give a momentary unease, a sense that something was off.  They were the sharps and flats of the book, the chromatics.  They disturbed the flow of the book for moments at a time.  Nonetheless, removing them would have made the collection somewhat average.  They added spice, and whether they were the right amount of spice or a bit too much is a matter of taste.
      Recommendation: Overall, The Rim Benders is like music for the deaf, a way of seeing the notes and progressions usually heard as diagrams drawn from beginning to end.  Haskins captures all the feeling and nuance of music in the more limiting parameters of verse.  Add a cover that would look good on any Pink Floyd album, and clearly The Rim Benders is a book to fit nicely on any shelf.  File somewhere between Moby and Mozart.
THE RIM BENDERS by Lola Haskins
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Book Reviews by Ace Boggess
Reviewed Feb. 5, 2002
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