THE BODY AT A LOSS
Jeannine Hall Gailey microreview in Guest 6
"It's a warm inviting book about a lot of cold, sterile landscapes."
Kyra Rabinov's reviews The Body at a Loss and engages in conversation with Cati Porter in Literary Mama:
KR: Your poem "Even At Their Best, Doctors Only Guess" sums it up.
CP: Sometimes, the poison saves you. Sometimes it doesn't. My mom is still here but Marion isn't. All of the poems in the collection come at illness from multiple angles: the impact it has on us, and those closest to us, and how we endure.
"The body knows nothing of courtesy. It is blunt, and often cruel. For its part, the mind can only try, vainly, to make sense of it. This book is a study of the body from the perspective of the mind, which is, for once, forced to give up its stance of imagined supremacy."
"Porter’s beautiful meditations breathe humanity into the usually one-dimensional frame with which we look at mothers and motherhood. They remind the reader that the mother/child relationship is as severe as always thought. Meaning, when our mothers tell us their love for us is so great they would die for us, we should believe them."
"There is a considerable and influential archive of women’s writing detailing with journeys of terminal illness... The Body at a Loss chronicles the poet’s experience with her mother’s diagnosis, her own, and a friend’s, overlapping in hope, struggle, and ultimately an outcome for each... Cati Porter’s poems are an important and eloquent addition to the canon."
In Cati Porter’s newest book, The Body at a Loss, the poet bears powerful witness as both a support to her mother undergoing cancer treatment and as the prime figure in her own story of illness. Where the rush and blur of “normalcy” starkly end in the cold realm of medical offices, a kind of suspension enters—part underworld, part dreamscape, part hyper-presence—and Porter stays here at the knife-edge of knowing and unknowing, following every contour of perception. Awash with singularity, Porter gifts these poems with a fearless attention that exposes loss after loss as she keeps turning the gaze in toward the body so completely that a remarkable intimacy emerges, the moment when the body is reclaimed with exquisite kindness.
Jennifer K. Sweeney
Cati Porter’s The Body at a Loss carefully dissects the strangely intimate and simultaneously dehumanizing theater of medicine, the difficult tightrope between well and sick, between life and death, the journey of all mortal beings with beautiful. moving language.
Jeannine Hall Gailey
The Body at a Loss faces cancer, “the traitorous rising up / Of the lymphocytic swarms” head on. Porter points out magic all around us in each poem. “Sad coyotes at dusk trot / Their dun bodies into the lit field,” and the world we inhabit is beautiful—because of our ephemerality. You need to read this book through in one sitting, let the narrative arc wash over you; then, return to it again and again.
Cati Porter’s The Body at a Loss traces the difficult story of women’s bodies in distress. Straightforward and unobtrusively adorned, as if in lavender hospital gowns, the poems carry us through the painful history of Cati’s mother’s cancer, the cancer and death of Cati’s friend Marion, and Cati’s own considerable medical issues, helps us, finally, understand “how to live acknowledging/There is always a diagnosis, and not always a cure.” The poems discover, with humor and grace, that the present tense is “All there is; all there ever is”, and they leave us with a shared experience and deeper appreciation of “This braided life, this tangled, aching bliss.”
MY SKIES OF SMALL HORSES
Cati Porter’s My Skies of Small Horses revels in a domestic space that twists and morphs until a dystopic world is revealed. The speaker persists through various trials with a feral power that wreaks havoc on the ordinary. With language that is both daring and dazzling, she lets her survivalist mode kick in and lays claim to this tumultuous realm where, “beneath the table, beneath the chairs,/small horses take shelter:// I cross the field./I clap my hands./I want to see them run.” A brilliant and vital collection!
Cati Porter knows that the domestic sphere is a space full of knives, that a human is a zoo animal, and that a lover is someone who holds your hair while you vomit. With plenty o' nods to Plath and looking-glass Alice, the language in My Skies of Small Horses is like a steep spiral staircase with a velvet bannister, tricky and lush and twisting. It's a poetry of the "haunted, the unhung and moonsung, the run and the con."
THE BODY, LIKE BREAD
Each poem is a delightful morsel. I find I am enchanted by how Cati pays attention to the smallest details: broken yoke, softened butter, sharp knife. Even though the poet proclaims that Every Poem is Not a Love Poem (4), I claim that each poem within is a love verse to the kitchen and cook.
Cati Porter’s The Body, Like Bread is a marriage of Epicureanism and Eroticism, a dance between renunciation and desire. One of her poems boldly proclaims, “Every Poem Is Not a Love Poem,” but that isn’t true of this collection. Every single poem in this collection explores desire, “the web-nest at the stem, the marble of it, glistening.”
These are aching poems, mouth-watering poems, thrumming with every hunger the body can hold. These poems hold the meat and fruit and bread you would find in a fever dream—sensual and satisfying and strange. With The Body, Like Bread, Cati Porter has delivered a breathtaking feast.
SEVEN FLOORS UP
Seven Floors Up is a book that mirrors real life, in all of its messiness, chaos and brief moments of serendipity.
Jessica Fox-Wilson, ReadWritePoem
Seven Floors Up is a memorable collection of impressive poems that evoke day-to-day life and women’s manifold experiences.
Dorsia Smith Silva
As in some paranoic dream, in Cati Porter's powerful debut collection, "everything's a sign"--the scrabble tiles spelling out clandestine family tensions, the glazed eyes of porcelain lobsterware revealing her craftsman grandfather, the dictionary definitions of "mum" defining cycles of sexual violence and enforced silence. Through E-Bay ads for an inflatable church, labels stuck to her preschool son's jeans, instructions for preconception gender selection, and childhood games, Porter names herself into the world with lyrical irony in poem after hilariously tragic poem. Follow her through the "bourbon-hinged jangling dancing open door" seven floors up to visit the kitchen of the soul. There are madwomen in that attic, but the booze is good, and they really know how to cook.
In Seven Floors Up you will find a complicated and gifted poet, Cati Porter, whose art is filled not only with heart and mind--but also with the body in its varied and rich incarnations. Here's a poet speaking as wife, lover, mother, daughter, woman, artist and thinker, whose grateful, and still often rueful, poems remind us that it's in our messy everyday entanglements, in our obligations and aspirations, amidst our fears and demons that we forge meaning. But don't be fooled. Although these are the poems of a young wife and mother Porter has range. She can write "Marriage as a Board Game" and "Elegy for My Mothers (Who Are Not Dead)", and then give us a sharp and insightful poem about an inflatable church available for purchase on eBay. She can write "In My Hand a Photograph Of Where He Is Not" with its compressed picture of loss and shock and then use a children's game ("Mother May I") to document the changing of the generational guard. Porter even turns her wry eye on the opportunities science provides--don't miss "Oogenesis, Or 'Welcome to the Vagina!'." Reading this book, is like being at a party when a truly smart and funny person walks through the door. "Thank goodness she's here," you think, "Now we'll have some fun."
This necessary book comes to us straight from "the kitchen of the soul," where the details of daily life--a sick dog's diet, an inflatable church up for bidding on eBay--are transformed from the domestic into the mythic. Cati Porter's fascination with language and deeply-felt passion are seasoned with a welcome humor that makes this book a joy to read. Admirable in its range--whether pantoum, sestina, abecedarium, or deft free verse--and penetrating in its wisdom, Seven Floors Up is a collection to be treasured.
Beth Ann Fennelly
About "Miss Carriage", winner of So To Speak's 2010 poetry contest: "In the vein of poetry by the amazing Heather McHugh, the driving force of "Miss Carriage" is American language itself: its endless opportunities for riffing, its image-rich idioms, its fantastically eclectic sounds. But like McHugh's poems, the language play of "Miss Carriage" is not merely playful; it is pinned to something very real, very directly human. In this case, that something is the experience of pregnancy loss, which is a subject worthy of more literary exploration than it gets in our culture, and which is handled here with complexity, dry humor, grace, and finally, deep sorrow."
Arielle Greenberg, contest judge
(al)most delicious is like the thoughts of a figure in a painting. But more than that it is a kaleidoscopic meditation on the theme of artist and model. Or like a room of mirrors in which looking and being seen are erotic, and creator, creation and observer are locked in a love triangle of reflection and illusion. Enter, listen to the voices and the music, you will be rewarded."
Like bees extracting pollen, Cati Porter has found the rich and mysterious nourishment of the things in front of us, the poetry in plain view. In deceptively simple language, she startles us into insights. We're presented with a delightfully off-kilter world where a woman weds a tree while "the wind administers vows," where another woman, "large with grief and belly full of bees," would like to scream but finds "her mouth has become a honeycomb, her teeth and tongue coated in golden duress." Small fruit songs is nothing short of delicious.
Beth Ann Fennelly