Cambridge Book Review

[Issue #11, Spring2004]

Joy Unspeakable
By Laura Stamps
Kittyfeather Press, 2003

Reviewed by Karla Huston

Many poets write poems filled with angst and anger, with trouble and tension, with desire -- poems filled with wishes and wanting and warning. Not so, these. These poems are filled with joy. Plain and simple. Stamps finds joy in her everyday world, the world outside her window, in the playfulness of her cats, in the blooming of her garden, in the birth of each new day.

Although many have written poems of praise, admiration, and celebration, what makes these poems notable from the rest is Stamps' use of language, a diction that is both luscious and surprising. For example in the poem "Treasure" she says:

Thunder curls its long,
loud fingers around the limbs
of evergreens, trembling
the ground, pleating the sky
with eyelash-shivers
of lightning sizzling in
from the west

the grass opens its green
apron, gleefully catching
this damp treasure, not caring
how loudly it arrives,
but that it comes, and often.

In another, she says the "fierceness of winter / withdraws its frigid breath, / slowly folding its ice robe / like a monk." In the poem "Smile," Stamps says it is "The last week of January, / and rain drums the house / with a thousand gray sticks."

The poem "Lizards and Lightfall" describes her dismay with poetry magazine guidelines that say, "there are too many / poems written these days / about sunrises and sunsets," but what about lizards, she wonders, "are there too many / poems laced with lizards?" She tells the reader that lizards lounge like "little green licorice / sticks . . . on the leaves / of my gerbera daisies . . . the ones with the marshmallow / bellies . . . their pink eyes flashing / as if dreaming / of raspberry pudding." Stamps find her bliss in these simple treasures.

Stamp's poems often pay homage to the antics of her cats. She describes them in language that is rich and fresh -- like "the sleeping sighs / of the kitten / wound in a knot at the end / of her bed," while outside, "the fading rumble-thread / of a plane stitch[es] the clouds." In the poem "Happiness by Design," she describes the latest feline shenanigans finding, "the television / section shredded in strips / of noodles like newsprint / spaghetti piled high / on the green plate / of the carpet." In the poem "Silver Leaves of Prayer," her kitten sleeps in her arms like an "answered prayer, / wrapped in a black / purse of fur." In another, she corners her cat so a bunny can escape "this feral / tom with a taste for blood," then lectures the feline "for twenty minutes on the proper / behavior for a good kitty."

Because Stamps often enjambs her lines skillfully, there is a surprise at every turn. We find that her neighbor thinks the "mailman is / a terrorist" because he fills her mailbox with more packages than it can handle. We see "cats / galloping" and "songs / purling" and "amazing / equations." There are "starlings [that] screech / with glee like wild / monkeys" and "Miro, / a man who painted / like a poet. " Like joy, there is an abundance of splendid language here. Her lines are generous with their surprises and each one brings some new delight to astonish even the most jaded reader.

These poems are filled with simple, daily miracles. If you're looking for the dark side of Stamps' soul, you won't find it here. She practices a zen dependency to her ecstasy, "transparency; / the art of allowing / every jot and tittle . . . " to "flow through [her], permitting nothing to stick." In the poem "These Days" she says, "My ministry is simple -- / to seek the love and peace / lining the hidden pocket / of the present moment." And she does; yes, she does.


Joy Unspeakable is available for $15 from Kittyfeather Press, Box 212534, Columbia, SC 29221-2534.


Karla Huston has published poetry, fiction, and non-fiction in several state and national publications, including The Wisconsin Academy Review, The Wisconsin Review, Cimarron Review, Nightsun, The Comstock Review, Rattle, and others. She serves on the board of directors for the Fox Valley Writing Project and the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets.

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