A memorable little box of poems

Some books of poetry, in their own quiet way, tug at you.

Each re-reading, like sanding lacquer, reveals more grain and meaning.

On of those is Christine Deavel's "Box of Little Spruce," published by LitRag Press.

It's a small book - 20 numbered pages - that carries a lot of weight.

Deavel owns and operates Wallingford's Open Books: A Poem Emporium, with husband John Marshall. It's one thing to sell poetry - it's another thing to write it. Deavel and Marshall are fine poets.

The poems in "Box" are mostly spare, stripped to the bare bones of language and emotion, and playful with the possibilities of language. The are even riffs of near-childlike song.

Here's the first poem in the book, "From the Book of History Chants":

The flowers built your mother.
They erected her twiggy works
and sealed the rind with pitch.
They pumped the syrup up.

Their shale sled pulled her
To the house where you are born.
She held you to her husks and moss
the way the flowers taught her.

"For me it's an elegiac book," Deavel said.

Some of the poems were written in the early 1990s, when the barbarism of the Bosnian war was a staple in the news of the day, a time when Deavel wondered about the efficacy of poetry in the face of such events. Some poems were written in the last couple of years.

She's not prolific, in other words. There have been long periods of silence.

"I felt the need but not the capacity," Deavel recalled.

Deavel holds an MFA from the University of Iowa writing program. She's been published in some of the nation's leading poetry journals, including the American Poetry Review. Unlike some writers, she writes only when she's ready.

"This was almost a received text," Deavel said. "For me it was sitting at the typewriter and being filled."

There are delicately rendered images that make their mark. After reading "Pilot Light" one may never see the Stellar Jay the same way again: "blue flame/of jay/was on the wire," Deavel writes. "I was walking by/clear burn of fuel/that is a bird/lit alit."

She contrasts her own existence, "smoky-faced with thinking," and how, against the "pure blue flame of jay" she sputters.

"I'm less afraid of my writing these days," Deavel said. "I expect less from it. So it can give me more."

Those who have been in her store probably know Deavel as someone with a light spirit and a quick sense of humor, but she's also a deeply serious writer.

As for the title, "Box," Deavel said, signifies "a longing to contain and be contained," an approachable but ultimately unreachable state of being.

And so the book's poignant power.

"Box of Little Spruce," Christine Deavel, published by LitRag Press. $9.95.

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