Arsenic Lobster poetry journal
Issue Seventeen
Summer 2008
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Caroline Noble Whitbeck, Our Classical Heritage: A Homing Device
Switchback Books 2007; 73 pages; $14
ISBN 978-0-9786172-1-9, Paper

Blind. I know. Ruin. Run a fork tine

           Caroline Noble Whitbeck’s is a new, singular voice in the modern world of poetry—truly, a new kind of gothic. Winner of the Gatewood Prize selected by Arrielle Greenberg, Whitbeck’s first full length book, Our Classical Heritage: A Homing Device, showcases radical forms, diction and syntax. Moreover, it offers exciting new ways for a poem to metabolize.

           Her subject material may seem simple: a daughter, her lover, her mother, her father and a sister but a terrible rhythm of ruin and devastation awaits them. In fact, what I find most haunting is the material that has been left out. Beautifully penned, I find that often subject and syntax ignite, disintegrate, sink, sink or tangle together in the most unexpected forms. There are poems that have already sunk so low they start at the bottom of the page:

Later we had to kill him (captain come to the surface) we’d torpedoed (the
only survivor
) for weeks I interrogated until the smell (whatsis) he’d
horded butter rotten (but this is America) letters came in code so she’d…
           —from The War Hero

Whitbeck centers youth into an hourglass in the poem, Teenagers Star In The Story Of Their Lives. Painful Details And All : “sister borrowed my gritty/glitterstick eyeliner the unjangled/phone mother made us”… And the form of the poem, Dune Road, 1941-2005, is a gravel of syntax & potholes (missing text and extra spaces) moving the reader down a narrow path through the center of the page abandoning us at the haunted and unexpected bottom of the next page:

82 [she] returns her men
on the tide

Fractured syntax, hyper extended lines, lyrical sentences:

Like laundry from the line
wrested loose say just the
night dragging its skirts is.
All her rings fit.
See we are all generous untuck
and taking his hangnail in teeth feeding it to him I am so suddenly grown.
           —from Inheritance

Our Classical Heritage is a daring and successful experiment with free-verse forms. In the end, nothing comes together like this book. I highly recommend it. If you are ready for a challenge and want to read something both strange and true add Whitbeck to your must read list.
Susan Yount
Editor and Publisher, Arsenic Lobster Poetry Journal
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