"Gringa" and "Anatomy of a Yes" are the notable exceptions, and I wish she would have used the same incisiveness throughout the collection.
Valente, A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects (Norilana, 2008) Few things are as worth waiting for as a new book by Catherynne Valente. My current monetary situation (and the book's current, as I write this, availability situation where libraries are concerneda most grievous oversight indeed) had me waiting far too long to pick up A Guide to Folktales in Fragile Dialects, Valente's first book of poetry since 2005's Apocrypha. While there's nothing in the book that falls short of the standard Valente set for herself in that last book, there are a handful of pieces that transcend even that: Hades is a place I know in Ohio, at the bottom of a long, black stair winding down I-76 from Pennsylvania, winding down the weeds through the September damp and that old tangled root system of asphalt and asphodel, to the ash-fields, clotted with fallen acorns like rain puddled in fibrous pools. At this point, I had also planned to quote from the quietly devastating The Eight Legs of Grandmother Spider, the book's most personal piece, but there's no way to give you the full effect of the piece without giving you the whole thing, which is too long for a review.
The prose is poetic and the poetry tells stories, as you might expect from Valente.
--- Tale Type 30(x-42): Black, Flowing Hair In the distant lands of you-know-where, there is a tale told only by motherless women to motherless girls. There was a woman with hair like a fairytale: black as coal dripping with the midnight sky, long enough to plant a garden in, and thick enough to create strong coils of rope with. She wrote a body that lives and breathes and bleeds. That's how you know the things she wrote are alive. All of these tales must be poetry because they must flow across the body like streams of capillaries.
I'm kind of glad I did read this one straight through, partly because it made me notice poems that I might not otherwise have, and partly because, whether intended as such or not, the prose sections, written like descriptions from an academic work on folklore, did seem to have a particular narrative flow.
I understand carrying a common theme throughout a collection of poetry, but because this was one was so obvious and used in almost every poem, it gave the impression that the book was a single long, epic poem split into chapters.
I had never read any of Valente's poetry collections before, but I'm not surprised to discover how much I enjoyed this collection.