Review: Kathleen L. Housley's Epiphanies

by Guest Blogger April 14, 2015

Reviewed by Thom Satterlee

It may surprise some readers to find in the same collection poems about the Spanish flu, Leonardo da Vinci (both as artist and inventor), evolution, heart attacks, mathematics, Robert Frost (mostly by way of allusion and brief quotation), Greek mythology, psychiatric illness, and the martyrdom of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. However, the poet Kathleen L. Housley has a way of organizing her material so that dissimilarities and apparent randomness more or less vanish and leave us with common ground and orderliness.

Her collection—Epiphanies (Wising Up Press, 2013)—holds together, first of all, by way of its title. She uses the word epiphany in its religious sense more than any other (the cover image shows the angel Gabriel from da Vinci’s Annunciation), but the word can also welcome all kinds of discovery, from scientific to artistic to personal. As I read through the collection, I sensed that Housely also hoped to suggest ways in which these seemingly disparate areas blend together. For instance, in the poem “Psalm for a New Human Species,” she begins, “What was Homo floresiensis / that you were mindful of her?” then carries on in a clever reworking of the familiar biblical text.

The three divisions of this collection also create a sense of order. The first section, titled “And We Are Not Saved,” is the most diffuse and offers the widest range of subjects. Here my favorites were “Psalm for a New Human Species,” “Cold Comfort,” and “Cardiac Arrest.” That last poem describes a moving scene in which a caregiver attempts to revive an elderly person and contains these lines:

She will be buried with the print of my hand

bruised into her chest, placed there before she slid

beyond my assault on her failing heart

that refused to resume its ninety-year beat. . . .

Less successful, I would say, is the poem “The Mathematician’s Wife Ponders Ontology.” Though I love the title, the poem often slips into lengthy prose-like passages with little music, imagery, figurative language, or other poetic energy.

If the first section of the book is the most diffuse, the second is probably the most tightly organized. “Prayer Book for an Influenza Pandemic” consists of seven short poems, each beginning with a brief quotation from either Lamentations or Jeremiah. In these poems, Housley is at her most linguistically playful. In “Swine Flu, a Prayer of Confession,” for instance, she writes, “The truth is we need / a porcine scapegoat,” and “who else can bring home / the epidemiological bacon / better than you can?”

The final section of the book impressed me the most and made it likely that I will want to read another collection by Housley. It is titled “The Art of Science, The Science of Art: Leonardo da Vinci.” The four poems in this section could be called shortish long poems, or sequential poems, or numbered poems—I’m not sure that we have a standard term for them. At any rate, the poems average five pages in length and show the poet’s skill at deftly transforming the biographical details of da Vinci’s life and art into compelling, resonant, and intellectually interesting poetry.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy a wide mix of subjects—and who are open to seeing the similar in dissimilarities. Epiphanies (Wising Up Press, 2013)

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Thom Satterlee is the author of the poetry collection Burning Wyclif  (Texas Tech UP, 2006) and the novel The Stages (Crooked Lane Books, 2015).  He has also published two collections of poetry translated from Danish. Thom lives in Marion, Indiana, and works as a full-time writer. Visit his website at http://www.thomsatterlee.com/


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