Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Review: Apocalyptic Swing by Gabrielle Calvocoressi

Whenever I read a Gabrielle Calvocoressi poem I feel dirty. Not mentally dirty, or sexually dirty, or anything of the kind, but I feel physically covered in dirt. Her poems feel dusty and all-American in a very rustic sort of way. She captures in her newest book, Apocalyptic Swing, various parts of 20th century America. The poems range in location, yet always have a sweaty, dusty feel to them that is unique to this country. 

I first read Calvocoressi a few years ago. Her debut book, entitled The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart, blew me away. The title sequence in the book is beautifully constructed and truly captures the voices of a period. It does an amazing job of using a historical figure and event and yet making it about everyone's internal struggle to escape and be more than we are. 

Apocalyptic Swing is her second book and while I don't find it as strong as the first, it still works to capture something true about America and provides the reader with sharp and fascinating characters. Her poems often deal with small town people and values, yet always rise above the cliched or the expected. 

She also deals in interesting and complicated ways with gender. Many times her speakers are not clearly identified as male or female. Other times she clearly addresses lesbian relationships and sex. She has such great lines like these from her poem "A Love Supreme": "I've slicked / my hair back, I've made myself / a boy for you." She looks head-on at the fear, desire, and courage of early 20th century gays and lesbians and then brings us closer to the present with a poem entitled "Fence," which deals with Matthew Shepard's murder. 

The strongest poems in this collection are the ones that are in the voice of a boxer and deal with the idea of pain and violence both inside and outside the ring. These poems are scattered throughout the book and also the focus of the seven poem sequence in the center of the book entitled "Training Camp: Dear Lake, PA." These poems are interesting and startling, and after reading more and more of them, you begin to examine how these poems are getting at something much deeper. 

One of the last poems in the book has this great line: "What I'm trying to say is / a body can take a hell of a lot." In many ways this is the overall theme of the book. Life is hard and amazingly we survive. Many of the characters and speakers in these poems are beat-up, hit with beer bottles, called names, yet like the boy in her poem "Blues for Ruby Goldstien" most crawl back to life and keep going. 

-Stephen (Swinger) 


  1. Oh my God! How did I miss a new book from her? Calvocoressi's first book is one of my top 5 contemporary poetry books. I'm so glad you've drawn my attention to her second release!

  2. I wondered if you had read it. I knew you loved her first book. It came out in August, I think. I bought it last month and just got around to reading it. You will enjoyed it!