Kirkus Reviews QR Code
NOTES TO THE BELOVED by Michelle Bitting Kirkus Star

NOTES TO THE BELOVED

By Michelle Bitting

Pub Date: Jan. 15th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0983136231
Publisher: Sacramento Poetry Center Press

Bitting (Good Friday Kiss, 2008, etc.) returns with earthy, adventurous and existential free verse.

Bitting is the rare poet who clearly understands that sublimity is never more than one overwrought image away from absurdity. Though clearly capable of the sublime, she is careful to counterbalance the sacred with the profane and the transcendent with the commonplace in crafting what is, on the whole, a forcefully well-proportioned collection. In “Mammary,” for instance, narrator and reader are transported by a chain of associations from the highway sights outside the narrator’s car to visions of her friend’s body as she undergoes a mastectomy. What begins as psychological free association grows increasingly mystical (and worshipful) as the narrator evokes Promethean suffering—"I imagine birds and flight / as the elliptical sweep of sharpness / cuts the pale sky of your chest, / steel beaks of surgical tools / carving out the flesh cream, / making smoke of tumor meat”—before resurrecting her friend’s breasts as “two blond angels, / flying out / beyond the moon’s milky scar” to “spread their innocence." As counterweight to such moments of profound pathos, Bitting demystifies some of life’s most hallowed experiences, such as in “Birth,” a darkly humorous portrayal of childbirth as a telescoping series of indignities in which a Demerol-injected mother on “a Jimi Hendrix acid trip” greets her “baby’s head galumphing / through the ravaged pit” with “a sphincter blast of feces.” Between these extremes, this collection covers a lot of ground—music, death, sex, family, autism, suicide, aging, food—but it always does so from the perspective of a thoroughly embodied narrator. There is a comfortable, even epicurean, egocentrism to Bitting’s narrators that insists on the primacy of the sensual. In this way, and in the way her narrators respond to mortality by burrowing even further into their own skins, Bitting proves herself a sister poet to Anne Sexton, Sharon Olds and Sheryl St. Germain. Yet even with her range, lighter poems like “His Hat,” a comic come-on to Johnny Depp, sometimes feel like filler.

Not a perfect collection—but it comes close.