In a culture intent on chatter and saying a little in a lot, Kristin George Bagdanov’s first chapbook, We Are Mostly Water, intentionally takes a different path. Terse and tight, Bagdanov’s poems employ lean and taut language and images, inviting readers into her own engagement with grief, pain, adventure, and more.
Throughout We Are Mostly Water, Bagdanov roots her exploration of grief and pain in images found in the natural world. The chapbook’s first poem, “Erosion,” describes a woman’s suffering in terms of “stream,” “canyon,” and “cliff”:
he sits next to me, rocking,These archetypal images not only deepen the experience of grief and pain, but also widen it to an experience shared by all humanity, past and present.
as disease carves through her
like a stream begets a canyon.
. . . . .
At night, she pulls
a sheet across her spine,
notched like a cliff
where many have felt their way.
With this simple, natural image of a pebble, Bagdanov keenly illuminates the subtle, yet lingering and pervasive effects of human distress. It should also be noted that form accurately matches content in “How to Grieve,” as the sparse, streamlined layout of the words on the page seems fitting, given the subject matter.
Learn the new shape
how food and drink hesitate,
how even the thinnest laugh
to be hewn.
Our purpose was simple: to open ourselves
as wide as the Utah sky, learn the wild
bearing of the Colorado river, find the divine
inside each person. . . .
At the Grand Canyon we rushed to the edge
of the storm and let ourselves be drenched
in vastness. I can’t speak for you,
but my soul also yearns to be that big.
Here, we again see Bagdanov using natural images—such as “the storm” and “drenched / in vastness”—to uniquely describe this yearning for adventure and growth.
Bagdanov is at her best when, with distilled and lean language, she employs images from the natural world to add nuance and depth to her observations and experiences.
The strongest poems in We Are Mostly Water—“Erosion,” “How to Grieve,” “Cut Hair,” “Come Clean,” and “Holding Light”—all do this well, beckoning readers to return again and again to these poems in search of all that they might offer.
For her first collection of poetry, Bagdanov has, on the whole, most certainly succeeded. I sincerely look forward to watching her continue to deepen and develop her understanding of the act of making poems.
Elliott Haught is a Master of Theological Studies student at Duke Divinity School in Durham, North Carolina, where he is seeking to explore the connections between theology, language, community, and technology. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California in 2009 and has since worked as both a freelance editor and a construction worker. He also runs Logos Writing & Editing, found at www.logoswritingandediting.com. In their spare time, he and his wife enjoy running and the wild world that is Southern cuisine.
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