Review by Mindy Kronenberg
Poetry about illness and the journey toward recovery can be the most challenging to write. It is a daunting task to expose the intimate and raw moments of discovery and fear that accompany diagnosis and treatment, and to capture these fragile episodes in language that is eloquent and evocative. Kyle Potvin’s poems in Loosen are both brave and gently lyrical, quietly rendered yet resounding on the page. We feel her unmooring from certainty as she orbits hope, creating reverie from memory and exultation in day-to-day living.
In “Diagnosis” (4) the determined music of her words dances around medical and faithful gestures, the odds, and possible answers:
X-rays, sound waves, words dripping like drugs.
Will those sustain me?
Visitors offering cutlets, cashew butter, cider donuts.
Uttering a last Hail Mary, I think of my child
Terminally tied to me.
Statistical improbability; doctor shakes his head.
The near-lullaby of “After Hours” (17) invites the brain’s stress center into an anesthetized denial:
Say goodnight, amygdala.
Seep well in gin, vermouth and bitters.
Shut the mind’s blinds
Against the bloody and the sour.
Brush off despair
With your toothbrush
And swallow prayers like water.
There are lines that hover between incantation and meditation, such as those in ‘Petition,” (29) that celebrate familiar but cherished observations, simple gifts in a grateful homage:
Let us pray
For small boys who roll their taut bellies and make their mothers laugh.
For girls who squeeze air from their father’s cheeks and giggle at the sound.
For the gardener who lived here first and staggered the blooms in the yard.
There is a profound litany in a poem that asks, “Do You Know Pain?” (41) and summons the tangible hurt and suffering from accidents to birth:
The slice of the knife
The rock to the head
The blow to the eye…
…Pushing and bearing
The poem then swerves back to the persistence of survival with its own determined longing, “For the scarring is healing / The hurting subsiding …”
Enlarged moments from daily living emerge in “Commuter” (13) and “Catching the Green” (16), the first a claustrophobic train ride, the second a breathless tour past life’s various landmarks. The former poem, a box of words as it appears on the page, is a crowded space of slumbering passengers (“Against me, this sleeping dark suited/ man is like the others, sleeping, their foreheads smacking the window, glass that could crack from their startling snores…”). The latter guides us through a series of green lights and youthful missteps, past “The Irish pub/ where you kissed a boy belonging to someone else/past the dive where you celebrated your birthday all night long…” until suddenly snagged by a red light and the wistful, momentary recognition of an old, familiar location.
The poems in Loosen stretch and tighten in time frame and intensity, through rites of passage and cautious recovery. It is a graceful inventory of experienced pain and pleasure, a first full-length collection that is affirmed and strengthened by all its parts.
Loosen by Kyle Potvin
Hobblebush Books, 2021, $18.00
Mindy Kronenberg is a widely published poet, writer, critic, and professor of writing and arts courses at SUNY Empire State College. Her work has appeared in print and online publications around the world and featured in various art exhibits. Her books include Dismantling the Playground, a poetry chapbook, Images of America: Miller Place, a pictorial history, and an illustrated book of poems, Open. She is the editor of Oberon, an international poetry magazine.