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by Judith Kitchen

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2001
ISBN: 1-56689-121-3
Publisher: Coffee House

Thirty-two essays on the subjects of time and place—some somewhat discursive, others lyrical, all as brief as a sigh.

Kitchen (In Brief: Short Takes on the Personal, with Mary Paumier Jones, 1999) is interested in the past, particularly in how the present conveys us there. These lovely pieces flow like reveries (as, indeed, quite a few of them are) and reveal in virtually every case Kitchen’s capacious heart. Like thoughts, the essays do not always end where they began and often establish surprising connections and uncover buried treasure. She’s fond of brief images—e.g., “The food is vintage 1955. Campbell’s soup. Hot cheese. My grandmother’s sturdy black shoes. Her apron.” Readers must connect the dots and, having done so, find themselves in possession of a photograph of an era. She loves, as well, the paradox: she describes herons that have a purpose in their purposelessness; things unsaid are nonetheless articulated. As she states in her preface, some of the pieces are experiments. She plays with viewpoint—uses the first person to achieve immediacy, the second to draw us in, the third to step back, most effectively in the segment that deals with the death of her father. “She never saw his body,” writes Kitchen of herself and her father. Scattered throughout, as well, are six brief segments with colors for titles. She begins with blue, moves to black (appropriately, in the section immediately after her father’s death), ends with red. Some of these are wonderful—poems hide in paragraphs; others seem forced. A number of landscapes appear throughout: the Pacific Northwest (featuring a dead-on description of the eastbound Columbia River Highway as it leaves the river’s demesne), Brazil (which she visited in 1971), Ireland. She reveals failings (she cannot paint, and when she dances, “The body gets in the way”) and describes painful moments (working with survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing).

“Some books are better than others,” she declares. This is one of the former.