Book Reviews

This Skylark Sings! The Palace of Contemplating Departure by Brynn Saito

The Palace of Contemplating Departure

The Palace of Contemplating Departure

Brynn Saito is a young Asian American poet living and teaching in California’s Bay Area. In 2011, she won the Benjamin Saltman Poetry Award from Red Hen Press for her first collection of poetry, The Palace of Contemplating Departure. Saito recently won the Diode Editions’ 2013 chapbook prize for Bright Power, Dark Peace, which she co-authored with Traci Brimhall.

Saito’s debut, The Palace of Contemplating Departure, is a reflection on movement, connecting the many places Saito has entered and departed. “But where will I go now with my tireless wonder?” the poet asks herself in the title poem of the book. Her poems blend surrealism with reality as she combines dreams with life experiences: “I am a waker, blistered by morning / who, right before the ringing, was dreaming of a heart / surrounded by pistols / and the pistols pointed outward / and the muscle pumped blood.” Saito’s ferocious and confident voice guides the reader through both an external journey or our surroundings and internal exploration of the soul.

The collection is separated into four sections: “Ruined Cities,” “Women and Children,” “Shape of Fire,” “Steel and Light.” In the first section, “Ruined Cities,” the poems are primarily concerned with the act of departing, whether it is forced or chosen. The poems are all free verse lyric poems, most of which are single stanzas or organized into tercets. The second section, “Women and Children,” consists of six prose poems depicting surrealistic snapshots of a mother, whose “back…[is] a map of the way the world looks when everyone is sleeping. It will show you the way to my childrens’ stories. It will sing.” The third section, “Shape of Fire,” returns to lyric poems in a variety of forms. The final section, “Steel and Light,” is a series of persona poems told from the perspectives of very unusual characters such as Moonlight, Knife and Tracks (train tracks).  In “[Knife]”, the persona of a knife asks the person holding it, “What did you learn / from your first act of violence? // That the body is a door / to be entered by a soul, grazing the edges / of the cuts you made?” While the sections of the book are different from each other, they each play a part in carrying the reader through a movement, a journey from a dark past to an enlightened future, “a bright coin spinning in sunlight / so fast that it’s sparking a flame in the grass.”

Like the title of the book suggests, the poems allow the reader to contemplate on various departures, whether from youth to adulthood, relationship to relationship, city to city. The poems seem to be autobiographical, but their use of surreal images and strong metaphors makes the story almost dreamlike. Saito exploits beautiful internal rhymes, consonance and assonance to give her poems a soothing musicality. For example, from “City In Which I Love” she writes, “When the last bomb dog snarls and sniffs / when he nicks your black sack and you fail to grasp / the hidden weight of such random acts, let this / be a sign: the last branch has fallen from the root-sprout.” By the end of the book, we have sailed with Saito through ended relationships and lost loved ones. We have grown with her and listened to her words of advice. She is relentless, always moving always growing. Saito is not afraid to let go and instructs the reader that, “the one who stole your heart / also lives in your heart so you cut it out / with a carving knife and send it flying.”

Ultimately Saito leaves the reader with the tools to overcome the hardships of love and loss. Her tenacious voice and emotionally charged words give the reader grounding for our own troubles. She teaches the reader to have the courage and strength to move on. “So run, I tell you, from the places that trap you / from the walls that sand you till your skin shakes down.”

This award-winning book is available for purchase from Red Hen Press.

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