I love titles. Anyone who knows me knows I believe titles are vital to poems and can completely change a poem. I also love long titles and I'm very anti-untitled poems. While it may seem strange to some I almost always have the title of my poem before I have the rest of the poem. It is just the way my brain works. I come up with a title and then I come up with a poem to match it, plus a good number of my titles run into the first line, and therefore are important to have early on in the process. This isn't always true, but for about 90% of my poems I had the title from the beginning.
I bring this up because while reading Kara Candito's amazing debut collection, Taste of Cherry, I was struck by her amazing titles. Here are just a few great examples: "Self-Portrait with an Ice Pick," "Floristic Elegy for the Year I Lived with You in Coconut Grove," "Barely Legal: Upon Finding My Father's Porn," "He Was Only Half as Beautiful," and "On the Occasion of Our Argument During a VH1 Best Power Ballads Countdown." These titles leap off the page, but they also pay off. These aren't just clever titles that then let you down once you read the poems, instead they are the sparks for well-crafted and beautifully imaginative poems.
I was thrilled to get a copy of this book from Kara. While I was getting my MFA at FSU Kara was there beginning her PhD, which she is still working on. We had I think just one, maybe two, workshops together and it was there that I first fell in love with her work. Kara's poems have such a beauty to them even when they are discussing un-beautiful things. She weaves words together that just flow off the tongue and the page.
In Taste of Cherry we see the world. The poems take place in wonderfully diverse locations with an array of characters. My favorite section of the book is the one entitled "Portraits." Here Kara takes on the voices of fictional female characters from The Sound and the Fury to HBO's short-lived series Carnivale. I bring this up because it shows her range. This book references a lot of great works of literature (also including one of my favorite novels The Handmaid's Tale) but it also references pop culture like VH1's countdowns. I love this wide-range of experience and inclusion in these poems. It is something I attempt to do myself and I admire in other poets.
Before I wrap this up I want to mention just a few other moments that stood out to me. In the poem "California" she writes "knowing this / is like the hot, holy pulse of shower water in the morning, / the intimacy of knowing someone upstairs is flushing, / alone in the privacy of their own private suffering." This may seem like a strange part to quote in a review, but this blew my mind. I firmly believe the best parts of a work are those that so fully connect with you, but connect because they are so specific and you know exactly what they are talking which creates an intimacy between you and the text. This moment of standing in a shower when someone above you has flushed the toilet is perfection on the page. It is so human and so specifically relatable that I had to mention it.
The last moment I want to showcase is the closing of the poem "The Fitting." This is an example of how imaginative Kara's poems are but also how she can take something and make it sound so beautiful even when it might not actually be so beautiful. She writes "When you're not sure, remember those strange, // muffled sounds she made during sex, as if the coordinates / for buried treasure were caught / in her throat and she'd rather choke than share the gold." Wow, is all I can say.
In the end Taste of Cherry impresses and is well worth the read. I encourage you to get a copy and dive into these poems.