Liminalog, Tree Riesener
Reviewed by Gene Doty
Liminalog, 2005. Paper, wire-stitched. 30 pp. Inmates Run The Asylum Press
Liminalog collects both sijo and ghazals. Tree Riesener is a frequent contributor to The Ghazal Page; several of those poems appear in this collection. Other poems in the collection appeared online in Lynx. Since I have previously chosen to publish some of these poems, this review will be more descriptive than evaluative. My evaluation should be clear: Tree Riesener is an excellent poet. Buy her book.
Those who have read her work on The Ghazal Page or Lynx are already familiar with Riesener’s strong imagery and provocative wit. The foreword—“About the Poems”—provides some background and basic information on the sijo and the ghazal, as well as explaining the format of Liminalog.
Riesener’s themes range from erotic love to religion. (I hesitate to say “religion” as that may suggest to some readers that these poems are pious in a trite way; that’s far from the truth.)
As an example of religious themes, consider the ghazal, “The Passion of Christ, the Movie.” The title itself states the poet’s attitude toward Gibson’s film: “the movie” expresses the difference between the actual Passion and the acted passion. The radif, naturally enough, is “crucifixion,” while the qafiya rhymes on “noon,” with slight variations for “zoom” and “own.” The poem contrasts the violence of “The Passion” with that in Roadrunner cartoons and slasher films, strongly implying that the cartoons and slasher flicks are more honest depictions of violence in being obviously fantastic. The last sher slashes the commercialization of the passion of Christ in the “crucifix nail” jewelry sold in connection with this movie.
A more personal poem with a religious theme is the sijo, “Prayer,” in which Riesener goes to prayer fully aware of her (and our) mortal fragility:
sometimes God nails you
before you get to the part about bewailing your sins
More to my personal liking is the ghazal, “Net of Jewels,” which alludes to the Hua Yen Buddhist image of the universe as a net of jewels. This poem is drenched in Riesener’s rich imagery. It doesn’t use the Buddhist image in any didactic way. Instead, each sher is a gem in that net, rich with the concreteness of daily life.
Some of Riesener’s strongest poems explore life in the body as it involves sex, food, and other basic aspects of life. The ghazal, “Bodies,” for instance, explores both religious and scientific perspectives. What is the DNA of the apple in Eden? How does environmental pollution affect embryos? And how is that pro-life? What do nuns get up to on the Internet?
One sijo, “Zones,” recalls Catullus’ “Odi et Amo.” (“I love her and hate her,” wrote the Roman.) Riesener’s poem considers whether to write a love poem with a hot pen or a frozen one and concludes that either is preferable to a tepid pen. Other sijo, notably “Adultery,” “Unlocking,” and “Orgasm,” are both witty and honest about desire, its dangers, and its simulation.
Going back over these poems to write this review, I realize that the themes can’t be as easily disentangled as I have suggested. Friendship, physical life, religion, erotic love, committed love, the process of life both scientific and mythic—these themes twine and dance throughout this collection.
My only quibble with the collection is the format for the poems. The sijo are presented as three couplets, a standard practice. But Riesener has centered them, which I don’t care for. Your tastes, of course, may differ. It’s not a major issue. Then, she has broken each ghazal sher (couplet) into four lines (sometimes six). This format was needed to fit the poems on the page. But one of the things I admire about Riesener’s ghazals are the long lines, which she handles adroitly. Being divided into four or six lines conceals the lines’ real power.
But these are good poems that deserve a wide reading. I hope you and many others will read them.