Saturday, June 8, 2019

Book Review: Gilded Snow: The Poems of Raissa Parnok

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Edited with commentary by David Chorlton

As a genre, feline poetry is generally both overlooked and underrated by humans. How many four-legged poets among us have suffered the indignity of being ignored? How many of their contributions to our planet’s poetic soul have been lost? We’ll never possess the answer to these grave questions—but, fortunately, some atonement is now available in this slim volume.

Gilded Snow: The Poems of Raissa Parnok purports to be this snow-white kitty’s complete oeuvre. Through the astute commentary of David Chorlton, we learn what there is to be known about her life and times, as well as her influences and interpretations of her enigmatic work.

Like sensitive souls of every species, Raissa’s turn towards poetry may have had its roots in trauma: a 13-day disappearance that remains shrouded in mystery. Over a year later, she turned to writing—Chorlton observes, “we must conclude that she channels her innermost feelings only into this small but intense output.”

With access to a computer keyboard upon which her paws could roam freely, Raissa began her poetic career with this haiku-like foray:

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Chorlton writes, “Significant here is the use of punctuation at the beginning of the line to point forward…Numerology adds to the mystery. The poet has chosen not to speak on this in public.”

She proceeds to let her imagination run wild, as in this elegant example which “shows Raissa at her best and most contemporary”:

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Yet the poet did not restrict herself to brief forms. She also experimented with Whitman-esque long forms before returning to word-play seemingly influenced by Robert Creeley or Gertrude Stein. In a section titled “Poetry at the Watershed of Meaning,” we find:


Chorlton offers, “The speechless quality of this work is beyond dispute. We face a barrier across a border, indicating that New World Order or not, we still live with boundaries of physical and spiritual dimensions and only the international language that has no alphabet is adequate to communicate across them.”
As a bonus, there are many photos of Raissa among these pages—including a rare poster from her reading at the Cool Cats Book Shoppe in Phoenix—plus watercolors of Raissa by Chorlton. There is also a sample poem from a kitty named Cleveland, one of Raissa’s followers who carried on her legacy of C=A=T poetry.

Perhaps more than most human poets, Raissa understood that “each work is a new beginning.” Her creative output and Chorlton’s wry interludes make for an enjoyable read.

About the Commentator/Editor:
David Chorlton came to Phoenix from Europe in 1978 with his wife Roberta, an Arizona native. He quickly became comfortable with the climate while adjusting to the New World took longer. Writing and reading poetry have helped in that respect, as has exposure to the American small presses. He and Roberta have shared their living space with many cats over the years, each one distinguished in his or her own way while Raissa stands out for her cultural leanings.

Reading T. S. Eliot to a Bird (Hoot 'n Waddle, 2018)
Bird on a Wire (Presa Press, 2017)
A Field Guide to Fire (FutureCycle Press, 2015)
Selected Poems (FutureCycle Press, 2014)
The Devil's Sonata (FutureCycle Press, 2012)

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About the Reviewer:

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