December 4, 2008

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Beasts for the Chase, by Monica Ferrell, Sarabande Books, 2008, 85 pages
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

For a first-time author, and at the tender age of 32, Monica Ferrell manages something in her first collection that few of her ilk are able to accomplish: intelligence without pretension. Beasts for the Chase is a wonderful set of smart, knowledgeable poems void of the modernist bells and whistles of line breaks and performance subtext that are all the rage at coffee houses today.

And yet despite her blunt cadence and adherence to many of traditional poetry’s common vices — an academic’s knowledge base, for example — this collection feels fresh and alive. And Ferrell is no slouch when it comes to demanding her reader’s attention.

Ferrell writes like an angry Plath (when wasn’t Plath angry, one should ask) but uses touchstones as wildly varied as Norse Gods, Virgil and Egyptian history to weave a complex web of poems.

In the great poem “Echo Digression” Ferrell appears to be confronting death. The young poet throws all the deathly symbolism against the wall in one 20-line poem — the chess game, eyeless infants, squeezing breath from lungs, spitting termites. Hundreds of years of life versus death boiled down to a few lines and it works because Ferrell is so damned confident with her voice when she writes lines like “Who is she who difficults my steps on this path.” Death is not the end or a terror, it’s a difficulty. Wonderful stuff.

The collection’s not perfect — Ferrell does surrender to the young, female poet’s incessant desire to write at least one poem about birth and one poem about making rapturous love, but overall she seems uninterested in such teenage fantasy.

If you’re looking for a smart, well-versed new poet to watch, Monica Ferrell may be the next big thing. B+