Book Review


From: Wild Goose Poetry Review
Review by Scott Owens

Review of Ami Kaye's "What Hands Can Hold"
(Illustrations by Tracy McQueen)
Xlibris, 2010, 132 pages
ISBN: 9781450031080

I don't believe in fate, providence, or predestination, but I'm willing to admit that on more than one occasion in my life things have happened with a certain sense of synchronicity. Recently, for no reason I could fathom, I went through a renewed interest in short imagistic poetry — haiku, certainly, but other similar poems as well. And then, unannounced, I received a copy of Ami Kaye's new book of poems, What Hands Can Hold, which consists almost entirely of poems that are frequently short, and nearly always successfully imagistic.

Only two of the 63 poems in What Hands Can Hold, are consciously derived from haiku and its related forms (both are titled "Senryu"), but the influence of an aesthetic commonly thought of as Eastern, is manifest. Certain poems, like "Shadow Hands" bear a great deal in common with haiku — brevity, focus on two seemingly disparate images that resonate when placed, without commentary, together:

  against the bright light
hands dance to make a shadow
a black swan rises in
graceful silhouette.

Other poems contain one or more stanzas that come even closer to the traditions of haiku, as in this stanza from "Hands:"

  cupping water
the flowing urgency of
silt-green rivers.

And some poems are built entirely upon short, imagistic stanzas, as in "Tea House:"


That last
left interrupted

when the call

the rush
to leave,

the scrape of wood


the silence

The form, nearly always effective in these poems, is particularly so in this one, where the brief, perception-heavy phrasing mirrors the fragmented, methodical processing of a speaker confronted with a tragic parting.

While, as suggested in the volume's title, Kaye employs the motif of hands and the many uses of hands — creation, communication, support, prayer, praise, service, revelation, control, love — to bind these poems and mark them as part of a unified manuscript, the poems really cover a wide range of topics and themes, from love and parenting to politics and loss. And while Kaye is lyrical and adept no matter what topic she explores, she is perhaps at her best, in the love poems. Take, for example, "Curvature," a beautifully sensuous love poem that transitions seamlessly from one image of curvature to the next, beginning with that of a smile and proceeding as follows:


I am captured entirely

slave to your mirth
no need for words, silence builds

restless and charged, it
changes the quality of touch

air crackles between us, extravagant,
quickening, lightning fast

like the curve of light
when a rainbow is made

or the curve of your arms
when I'm in them.

"November Rose" is another sumptuous love poem with a number of those haiku-influenced stanzas, but it is also one of the most complex poems in the collection. Ostensibly about a very late-blooming rose, "born from frost . . . / deep in whose petals / burns a hot heart," it is not only about the speaker's love for the person who brings her the rose, or his love for the speaker, or even the speaker's love for things that resist decay, that manage to create or be created out of destruction, it is about a love of so many things — simple things like roses, poetry, music, language, and complex things like the very human existential resistance to death, decay and inevitability that paradoxically deepens and is deepened by the willingness to love despite the great risk such willingness necessitates. This paradox of love born from the awareness of loss's inevitability becomes the central theme of the text; perhaps it is the central theme of all human texts. This theme is most clearly stated in "Intimations of Mortality," where the speaker proclaims, "The hint of impermanence brings with it / the agony, the passion to live."

Even when the stories presented by the poems are most full of pain, the love still remains, as in the heartbreaking political narrative (two uncommon traits in this book), "Snow Globe," in these lines from "Sins of Omission," "She wished, she wished she had / inked on vellum to bear witness, / to tell him what she never said before: 'You matter'", and in "Senescence:"


She helps him change
and it hurts, even though
she's used to his empty eyes
by now.

She feeds him
oatmeal, an orange,
a meal that drags
into a couple of hours
and when she
washes the dishes
. . . //

She remembers
the times his fingers
laced with hers,
how he always knew
when she needed his touch.

It is just this fresh, deep, and wide treatment of a theme so vital to contemporary human existence that makes Ami Kaye's What Hands Can Hold both significant and timely. It is also what makes me glad that I had begun to look at short poems with short lines in a new appreciation, and that for whatever reason Ami Kaye decided to send me a copy of this book. So, while I still spurn the notion of destiny, I do find great joy in the presence of and from the consequence of what I might prefer to call serendipity.