With Pain and Grace

                    

Review of Numerous Avalanches at the Point of Intersection, poetry by Geraldine Kudaka, 1979, Greenfield Review Press, $3.00, Greenfield Center, NY 12838.

          

Mothers & daughters, sisters & lovers. People, places, time. Land.  Landscapes.  Men. Escapes. The many threads that weave through this collection of craft & pain: Numerous Avalanches at the Point of Intersection by Geraldine Kudaka. Perhaps all college sophomores believe they’ve been wounded into poetry and long to retire to Vermont to record their hurt into verse. There may be thousands of upstate madonnas attempting to self-rescue through a quick fix on nature or who expect readers to substitute for therapists. But they are of scant interest except to themselves for they concentrate only on developing the community of the single self. What instead do we make of a woman who dares the reader to be as strong and as vulnerable as she is? who defies any attempt to label her and her poetry, knowing that the quick label is a prelude to discarding the poetry and a prelude to discarding her and her people, her race, and her sex? How does a poet expose her wounding in this time when poems are saturated with a fake and comfortable anguish turned into a pathetic exhibitionism? I don’t know how she does it. How can she be the landscape, as fragile and as enduring, and be the figure in the painting dancing through an urban wildness? I don't know, don’t even care to know. I’m just glad it has happened.

 

I take it as a given that when the ground is quaking your feet are moved for you and if you don't do some quick moving of your own you will quickly get trapped. The static pose, cool and removed from life’s struggle, is a lie, but so also is the over dramatic theatrics of dancing on someone’s grave. The poet stands her ground using the weapons forced upon her by the oppressor:

I hand out knives

dressed in kimonos

the little extra thrill

is going to kill you

 

on my line I bait

the smile i am wearing

wondering whether

you notch your guns.

 

Like the best feminist verse hers is a writing from a position that never seems to have accepted a subordinate place.  She is writing from a fierce equality.

i write without alliance

i take on improbabilities

 

Charles Olson dedicated his Archaeology of Morning  to “you islands of men and girls.”  Kudaka may be one of his isolatos with her obvious independent stance, but even big Charles would not have dared to call her “girl.”

I am the crazy woman

who killed her mother

i wear nikon lenses

for eyes

and lie

through the skin

of my teeth

 

Do we believe this poet of so many disguises, who calls into the question her own language out of the necessity for survival? We have little choice unless we deny her, as a fellow oppressor, her voice. Esthetics has to be seen in its dual role of organizer of experience, and as a means to restrict that experience. Kudaka is well situated by race, sex, upbringing, to incorporate this incredible tension into her language, this double pull, breaking free and desire for closeness.

 

the machine of tradition swings

           ready to mow us down

 

 

o mom o mama o

i never wanted to hurt you

i wasn't turning away

from yr tired bleeding hands

i didn't want yr eight

ten twelve hours of fatigue

yr canneries

yr factories

that made you stink of broccoli

 

yr absent children

yr heart turned cold from

the endless desertions

 

This awareness of both polarities is enviable and refreshing in a time when too often it is the one-dimensional voice that is praised.

 

my mixed up

poems

are hybrid races

 

It is this mixture that is vital, that keeps her poetry from falling into the plain speaking “natural” poetry that is only the flip side of the tired record repeating an intellectual academic surrealismGeraldine Kudaka isn’t afraid of men or metaphors.

 

Bomb Squadron

     [hanoi‑haiphong bombing, 1973]

 

first

you swat the roaches

...

pretty soon your hand is tired

 ...

then comes the can of raid

 

General Westmoreland (remember ol' west / more / land?) in 1967:  “If you crowd in too many soldiers, each using a screwdriver to kill the termites, you risk collapsing the floors or the foundation....”.  The “raid” came later while the building was falling, Kissinger and Nixon dealing death at long distance. More bombs falling in those ten days than the Germans dropped on England during the entire World War II. And the analogy Kudaka draws is all the stronger because she knows as much about roaches as she does about the effects of the Vietnam War in her home, Okinawa. 

okinawa kanashii monogatari

the bird has been chained

to the sky

its tether stretching the pacific

crucified between the u.s. and jieitai

i who have loved you for so long

i weep for you

       for you were the laughter

of my land

The attempt to extract a poet from her race, the attempt to extract her from her place, is just another deception, just another cruel manifestation of a criticism that seeks to make either homemakers or whores of its poets. And, though Kudaka is a mover, (“Since 1969 has worked freelance as a camerawoman/filmaker. Traveled to Cuba, Mexico, Japan, Hong Kong, and both East and West Coast of the United States.”) she writes from the spirit of a place. She presents, the way the best poetry does, the universal from the particular. She takes the personal and makes it a necessary part of the landscape.

when everywhere

      rivers of blood are

       tears from ancient sorrows

it is raining in mexico city

and i have nowhere to go

 

I will not think of bangkok

      i will dance

to the tune

      of forgetting you

 

Geraldine Kudaka is doing some necessary work toward defining just what is new in American poetry. It is not just that her images have more power than the watery surrealism of the academic beatniks who write for the American Poetry Review:

the impotent

power of man & machine

giraffed the air

 

or,

 

in the setting sun

the giant clouds hung

like

monkey’s fur

 

It is that she is doing work that needs to be done in American poetry today—infusing it with a vitality, turning the poems from the fake neutrality of the page toward performance, toward dance, and giving meaning once again to the words of people who America has so desperately tried to discard.

 

inez murica, who would have remembered?

 ...

inez's face is with pimples

masked with makeup

her hair hangs limp

her buttons do not match

       but someone remembered

                          not to notice

 

her lips looked like

                     a smeared wound

 ...

       “remember me? remember me?”

 

someone remembered

 

In spite of the pain of not looking away from the wreck of the world, the people in the poem and the poet herself do so often dance. Action speaks louder. And on the back cover is a picture of Geraldine Kudaka, smiling out at you. Don't miss it. Lay your $3.00 down.