BY ANGELA SUNDSTROM
Black Hollyhock, Atoosa Grey’s first poetry collection, faithfully adheres to its title. While voluptuously organic, it also contains a dolorous underside. Grey’s image-driven poems, imbued with symbolism, navigate territories within territories -- those of language, identity, motherhood and the body. She deftly renders a world nuanced with languid musicality and replete with questions. She asks us to consider the currency of words, to find the sublime in the mundane, and to recognize the inevitability of rebirth and resurrection throughout our lives: “The body has its own way of dying / again / and again.”
“Language of Motherhood” evokes wonderment with unexpected imagery, and progresses with rhythmic ease, a “music of questions.” Here the language of motherhood is explored through a series of questions and images, often defined by what it is not, “it is the not-beauty / it is in the plate she prepares.” For the speaker, the role of the mother is not easily definable, but marked by impermanence and mutability. It lives in both the mundane and the extraordinary, “It is a kind of fire that changes shape / it is a kind of shape than can collapse.” It is a question that is continuously asked, and in many ways defined in the asking.
Grey continues her exploration of motherhood and identity throughout the collection. In “Belonging” the speaker tenderly describes her child through a series of moments spanning a day. The morning, “the hour when you / run through the orange light / as it bends like a whale” to the evening, “at the end of the day the way / your mouth becomes a bird’s.” Grey uses personification throughout, a vibrant diction through which the child, a bird, ends the day nesting in her mother’s dress. Their deep and unconditional connection resonates in the final lines, “She sleeps not a moment / more than you, / every inch of absence long.” Here the mother’s body becomes an environment, a habitat, where she and her child are fused into one.
“Tiger Morning” asks a series of questions about the meaning of language, how it signifies and shapes or defines relationships -- and ultimately what weight it carries: “What are we but very few words / Folding over one another / Like giant tulips.” For the speaker, our lives mimic the staccato syntax of a short sentence -- in this brevity, how much can possibly be said? Grey pushes us to question these series of moments strung together -- can they form a whole that is significantly meaningful? This mirrors the structure of the poem, itself a series of moments and images strung together. It is for us to determine what is conveyed by the final whole -- whether it is more than a sum of its parts.
And what of the words we choose? Grey jolts us in the second stanza, taking us to a new realm, “My wolf heart / this tiger morning.” She shifts to the personal, a child’s birthday party, the planting of “seeds that rip through / impossible dirt and then / all these flowers.” Injecting the prosaic with imagination and rich figurative language, she in essence shows us how the words we choose make a difference. There is metamorphosis and strangeness, “mine: a window / mine: a body willow heavy / you: a jack-in-the-box / you: a dull, blink of a hum.” The material world is now magical, resplendent with images both fantastical and familiar. We are given a taste of the sublime, found within the ordinary, “the ocean’s longhand / that leaves no mark: water is largely unbroken.” Grey ends with an image of the infinite, juxtaposed with equally stunning finite moments, the miracles found in the everyday.
Throughout Black Hollyhock we are served images of flowers (dandelions, irises, wildflowers) that gesture, that speak, that move through the air. The natural world, the external, speaks for the internal world of Grey’s subjects. It is just as animated, and even more prolific. We are observers, taken on a series of encounters, “strung like beads, / like lashes on an eye.”
Atoosa Grey is a poet and singer-songwriter living in Brooklyn, NY. She has released one EP and three CD’s: Out of the Jar, Sound Travels Up, Night of the Deep Bloom, and most recently When the Cardinals Come. She has performed nationally and contributed music to several independent films. Her poems have appeared on Fat City Review, The Best American Poetry Blog, Eunoia Review, and in Common Ground Review. She has received a 2nd place prize in the Paul Violi Poetry Contest.
Angela Sundstrom is a writer and poet who lives in Brooklyn, NY.