December 6, 2007

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We Arenít Who We Are (and This World Isnít Either), by Christine Korfhage, CavanKerry Press, 2007, 143 pages)
Reviewed by Dan Szczesny news@hippopress.com

New Hampshire writer Christine Korfhageís first book walks the perfect line between traditional style and stripped-down modernism. The poems in We Arenít Who We Are display the confidence of a poet settled in her own skin and comfortable with her own personal truth. If I hadnít known in advance, I would certainly never have pegged Korfhage as a first-time author ó her prose is that cool and assured.

Written chronologically, We Arenít Who We Are tracks the narratorís life, more or less, from birth to late middle age ó at times unblinking in her self-exploration, at times laugh-out-loud funny. Herself a grandmother and former artist, Korfhage began writing poetry at the age of 49, and, as it turns out, itís a good thing when a writer with life experience is able to be fearless and strip herself naked. Thatís not to say Korfhage is raw or abrasive. Just the opposite. Considering the subject matter in most of her poems, We Arenít We We Are is so smooth itís easy to forget youíre reading poetry and not a series of short stories or a memoir.

Korfhage bursts out of the gate with the first poem in the collection, ďMore Than I Knew,Ē a bittersweet meditation on middle-age longing. She follows up with a series of poems as a young girl. There are travels and coming-of-age experiences, of course. But itís when Korfhage talks about her own relationships that the poetry really soars. The first passage in ďThe One LieĒ is ďThe men Iíve had sex with would not / be worth noting, but for the fact / that three of my four involvements / took place at once.Ē Itís clean, simple prose wrapping great complexity.

In the best poem in the book, and one of the finest Iíve read this year, the narrator sits in a field by a lake, contemplating her grandson who is fishing, and wonders if all her past spiritual searching has been in vain. In this crisis of mortality she wonders if the bone and dust of her own dead body will one day end up as part of a fish which will be in turn eaten by the family of a another fishing boy. In the end, she decides that even if this finality is her fate, being fish food for a young family would be enough to consider yourself blessed.

Korfhage is working inside a framework of well-trodden meditations, yet the work never becomes clichť or trite. Deep without being pretentious, We Arenít Who We Are asks all the right questions and answers none. And thatís just fine. A

Christine Korfhage will be at Gibsonís Bookstore, 27 S. Main St. in Concord, on Thursday, Dec. 6, at 7 p.m. Call 224-0562 or go to www.gibsonsbookstore.com.