An Urgent Request, Sarah Luczaj, Fortunate Daughter, an imprint of Tebot Bach. 2009, $10.00
With An Urgent Request Sarah Luczaj has given us an astonishing collection of 21 poems that at once, manages to slow-dance with the intangible, yet is rooted firmly in everyday reality. This is a collection that underlines and embraces the contradictions inherent in the human condition. A poet of exceptional ability, Luczaj moves fluidly from the surrealistic to the concrete and back again. Take the opening lines of the book’s first poem, “For José Drouet (1968 - 1989)” which establish a real sense of place in a real world:
José, the light is moving in the waterThen suddenly we are taken on a leap with:
José, I carved a poem in the walls of a room
the room was dustThis is indeed a leap. We understand that the neither sky, nor the people are made of dirt. Yet we recognize the truth of it. After all, aren’t we and everything in this universe star stuff, created from that one moment, that big bang? So, when we read the next lines: it broke / on your body made of stars we recognize the truth of that as well.
and the planets were
trapped as the people
in it were, and it broke
on them, and the room
broke on the sky which
is made of dirt as
the room is made of
dirt, and the people
are made of dirt
and also the stars
The poem is the perfect opening for this book as it has, dare I say, a sense of urgency befitting the title. As do many of the poems in this beautifully varied collection. Like the prose piece “The Noise is Still There”: “Whether I am aware of my breathing or drunk, if I practice the violin or not, / and particularly when opening doors.” Again, Luczaj has expertly created a sense of urgency. The piece has a velocity fueled by its structure. Except for its title, there is no mention of any noise in the poem and we are compelled to add the poem’s title to the sentence fragments which propel us forward.
With some poems the title echoes and reverberates as in her short piece, “Missing The Dead” :
If I could catch some daylightWithout the title it’s a pretty little poem. But the words “Missing The Dead” add a fragrance that not only elevates the piece, but might cause a reader who has ever missed someone gone from this world, to pause and take a breath.
as I catch
the snow melting from the roof
I could bring a bucketful
and pour it out until it fills the room
in the middle of the night
Luczaj displays various styles including the superbly-crafted villanelle, “Child Song”. Here, the repeating lines do exactly what they should, they bear the weight of repetition, yet gather additional significance from the lines they bump up against: “Wood, warp, feather fish scale, skin / The world is stamped, the world goes in.” are not only incantatory, but also almost magically embody the macrocosm outside in the sing-song microcosm of the child.
These poems are overflowing with a love apropos of Luczaj’s Buddhist and psychotherapist background: a mother’s love in the breathtaking “Oh My Girl”:
oh my girl with the endless waterlove and straightforward gratitude in “My Life Is Brilliant” which is nonetheless, a kick-in-the-solar-plexus indictment of injustice:
looking for a bank to knock against
looking for a boat to carry
oh my girl, wondering what’s wrong with you that the
world isn’t right
I was not sentenced to death for infidelityand her vast love and understanding of humanity with, what I take to be a persona piece, “Here Is A List Of Things I Ate Yesterday”:
or not having put enough salt in the soup.
For one blank momentThere’s a proliferation of wonderful contradictions in the book, as in “Washing Her”: “‘I can’t / move’, she says. And moves.” In the title poem, “An Urgent Request”, the speaker claims: “I don’t need poetry. / I already have a body.” (a fabulous contradiction in a poem) and ends with: “Just give me the words”. Yet in “Imperative” which can be thought of as terms for a deal, the speaker says:
on the floor of the toilet cubicle
the whole damned world was eaten
Take off your voiceOne can argue that poetry exists in the spaces between juxtaposition. But this is more than that. The poems in An Urgent Request demonstrate the endless contradictions that exist in the physical universe, the laws of which we are all subject to.
Leave your eyes for now
And I’ll take off my arguments…
I’ll take off words
Luczaj is not without a sense of humor. “Holiday” is a three-page poem that reads like a short, short story which chronicles something akin to a Moroccan Hotel California:
This isn’tYet she leaves us with a reprieve and the image of her grandmother’s now waterlogged watch, lying useless in the sun.
a swimming pool’ he cries,
‘It’s a trap! It’s specially designed
to drown people. There’s no way in!
There’s no way out!’
Constantly exploring the terrain of the internal the results of which are manifested in the external, Luczaj artfully articulates what it is to be human. In reading An Urgent Request, we have an opportunity to become more so.
~ Elizabeth Iannaci is a poet living in Los Angeles. She holds an MFA in Poetry from Vermont College of Fine Arts and for five years served as one of the Directors of The Valley Contemporary Poets (a not-for-profit poetry organization) where she was coeditor of their yearly anthology. She was a finalist for the 2009 New Letters Literary Award and her work has been widely published in journals and anthologies throughout the United States and Europe.