Linda Casebeer’s Charm and Strange: Poems is an impressive poetry collection that braids the poet-speaker’s rich, interior life with memorable details from the larger world.
These free-verse poems, in five sections, present a series of vivid tableaus depicting and reckoning with the current zeitgeist—e.g. “the year Trump fell in love with Kim Jung Un” or “the sheen of oil spilling into the Gulf”—alongside the speaker’s personal history, dream life, investments in art and literature, and exploration of the natural world.
Here, specific people, places, and things draw readers into narrative scenes and lyric meditations, and Casebeer skillfully activates the senses: “At midnight when I turned the car/ into the driveway facing the lake/ headlights caught a hundred geese/ huddled at the edge of ice.” We can see the car turning, the headlights framing the geese. We can feel the implicit cold conjured by the phrase “edge of ice.”
Casebeer textures her collection not only with landscapes readers can enter but also by creating meaningful allusions to the humanities. Readers encounter painters like Picasso and Kandinsky, writers like Vonnegut, and D.H. Lawrence, musicians like Charlie Parker and Iris Dement. Never merely name-dropping, Casebeer weaves these historical figures and their creations into the poetry’s fabric. For instance: “…we believe/ when synapses cease/ the corpse will be tinged/ blue but cutting into the brain/ neurons will be as white/ as the sunbleached bones/ painted by O’Keeffe…”
Eschewing stuffiness, the collection also references less erudite activities: dining at Huddle House, asking Siri for directions, watching the television series American Horror Story.
The volume’s title doesn’t do justice to its complexity or inventiveness, and some segments could be tightened (“as we climbed higher intensity spilling over/ the mountains into numbered improvisations/ emerging at the end as biomorphic images…”) Overall, however, this is a wonderful offering. As the experience of coming to intimately know the speaker unfolds, the collection’s fresh and startling images are sure to linger in readers’ minds.
Also available as an ebook.