“The Swing Girl” is the fifth collection of poetry released by Katherine Soniat, a resident professor of writing at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, but this would be my first read from her collection.
I finished reading this some time ago (right around December 9th of this year). The poems themselves range in quality from beautiful reflections of locales and lives once past, to those that are snippets of life and nature that never really get off the ground for me, seeming truncated before their potentials are realized. She’s an excellent poet, I think, and knows her way along a variety of different styles, but I suppose for the collection of poems in “Swing Girl” – I would’ve liked to see a bit more cohesiveness.
The collection’s divided into four sections, the collective work approximately 88 pages. I think the running theme of “Swing Girl” is to show the nature of life in divided realms within their own distinct framework or uniqueness. The quote commencing the collection from Sir Thomas Browne seems to affirm that. It’s also a blend of seeing a contrast between past and present, but jumps in array that, while vivid and evocative in some instances, others don’t quite give that same level of resonance.
I was really impressed with the opening poem “Thoughts at Paliani,” which begins the work with a memento of the Greece locale in distinct images – from the “dozen of cloth windmills spin”, to the “long stream water makes falling,/each drop coalescing.” Even the activity in the nuns seems to evoke a time and sense of place of reflection. I equally liked “Self Portrait with Amnesia” about a cave wall painting seemingly forgotten in time, with an untold story that seems reflected in her image on the wall.
“Flower Viewing” struck me with its evocative imagery, a contrast established between a life of solitude and not seeing the outside world to an internal scape of floral imagery – especially in the stanza “Blue petals swayed above the dirt,/August tomatoes came to mind/on the heels of the little red cat.”
Others such as the titular poem, “Rose Mold”, “An Aerial Meander”, “Patience”, “Solstice”, “Sleep Interior with Nails”, “The Cathedral at Chartres” are all very well done and are among my favorites in the collective work, because they all have a sense of place, emotion, and/or image that’s strongly conveyed through the piece, and somehow relates back to the overarching theme of the collection. There were others like “The Forest,” “Flight,” and “To the Good Life” that I think didn’t quite hit the same level of resonance with me, and ended a bit abruptly in the scheme of some of the stronger poems that surrounded them.
Overall, it’s certainly a collection that makes me curious to Soniat’s larger body of work, and I enjoyed reading it collectively, but I’ll admit as an introduction, it didn’t quite have as much pull on me collectively as it did with certain individual poems.
Overall score: 3/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley via the publisher LSU Press.