Highwire Press, 2002 (ISBN 0972180109).
In this first collection from the newly established Highwire Press, poet Maria McDonnell takes the reader racing in several different directions. For someone not familiar with McDonnell's work, the poems in Running Up Spring Street present a challenge of perspective. They bounce between styles, contemplate different ideas about what they want to say, fall back on old, familiar thoughts, then rush ahead into undiscovered territory.
McDonnell often connects with her poems like fists against a heavy bag. Her words play out on a gut level that most readers will relate to, as in these lines from "Conversations I Never Had":
You never mentioned the one who'd gone before you
or told me what to call him twenty years after he flew down
Irish Whiskey spilled next to the newel post.
Daddy's with the angels
McDonnell writes with a biting fierceness that is less about sarcasm and more about telling it straight. The words come with an edge as in "Saturday's Girl":
She wore her fuck-me pumps red
with acid blue jeans
on nights when she hated her life.
Out in hidden bars with
rows of cracked promises
she tapped toward their backless stools
to find an ashtray of her own.
If the poet were able to maintain this level of intensity throughout the collection, her chapbook would be a gem. Instead, she stumbles at times as if her runner is stepping in potholes along the way. She lapses into sentimentality that the language of her poems fails to brighten as in these lines from "Painting Clouds":
You will remember painting clouds
like you did
as a childtwo or three drops of white
onto a soft blue paper, small, round and thick
until you fold the paper, rub the back
with your palm, feeling
the smear and the spread,
All in all, there is more to like than dislike in Running Up Spring Street. It provides an enjoyable hour's reading. The author experiments with styles and voices. As with most scientists concocting their formulas, sometimes the experiments work, while sometimes they steam and fizz or simply miss their mark.
Recommendation: This would be a perfect collection to buy at a reading. Find out where the author will be and go listen to her chant her mantras about everyday life. The way to best appreciate her words, it seems, is to be there running alongside her.