In film and in literature, mystery and controlled ambiguity can be powerful devices in the hands of the artist, especially when dealing with the sexual, the violent, the horrific, the sordid, the spiritual. Through use of shadows, angle of vision, perspective, and suggestive detail, the filmmaker or the writer can evoke and suggest a far richer, far more evocative, and far more disquieting world than he/she can through explicit gore or hardcore pornography. Dropping a few well-chosen but cryptic “clues” can create a sense of mystery and can pull the viewer/reader into a work and its world.
Poet MK Chavez is an artist who understands this. The cover of her chapbook VIRGIN EYES (available here…look for the paypal button in the righthand column: http://littlebrownsparrow.com/ ) is a blurry sexually-oriented image that is endlessly suggestive, both vaguely disquieting and uncomfortably real. It captures the feeling of intimately touching a 3 a.m. pickup while in a darkened environment. The poems in VIRGIN EYES take us into a world of sex-as-currency, of exotic dancers and sex workers and the search for meaning through touch, breaking through to another human being through touch in a world of dangerous strangers. Chavez captures the voices and details of this world, but presents them in an understated manner that creates a sense of mystery. Ms. Chavez’s technique in VE pulled me into its world and made me feel it, smell it, taste it, hear it, experience it. What more could I ask from any artist?
In her new chapbook for Kendra Steiner Editions, VISITATION, Ms. Chavez brings us an eight-poem suite about a confused child/adolescent, set in a vaguely defined but frightening state institution, and a series of uncomfortable ”visitations” with vaguely defined but mysterious relatives. Her use of understated and ambiguous language—-even her punctuation, which allows for ambiguity in the readings of the lines—-create in the reader the sense of confusion and fear and lack of understanding felt by the persona in the poem.
Reading VISITATION, I know I am in the hands of an artist in full control of her medium, someone who uses formatting, line breaks, punctuation, syntax, point of view, and unreliable narration to control the reading of the piece the way a film noir director will use shadow, off-camera sound, and sinister glances to create anxiety in the viewer.
We’re proud to have VISITATION (KSE #90) as our featured March release. Ms. Chavez, acclaimed poet/editor/activist-for-poetry, will be promoting it in the SF Bay Area, and if you are out there, be sure to purchase it directly from her at a reading so she’ll get 100% of the funds. If you’re not in the Bay Area, order direct from KSE. Send $4 check to Bill Shute, 8141-B Pat Booker Rd. #399, San Antonio, Texas, 78233…or get any 3 KSE chapbooks for only $10. Click on the “available KSE chapbooks” tag at the upper right of the blog. Outside North America, chaps are $5 each postpaid—-e-mail for a paypal invoice at django5722 (at) django (dot) com.
We’re proud to have MK Chavez on the Steiner team! And she will be back with another new work later in 2008…check the blog over the next few months for details.