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Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Lee Upton
  • Date Published: May 2015
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-9860257-7-8
  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 88pp
  • Price: $15.95
  • Review by: Benjamin Champagne
Lee Upton’s Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles is a dense work wrapped in a short body. Originally from Michigan, the Midwest comes through Upton’s poetry in a similar way to a classic James Wright poem. It is there when she wants it to be, but she has the control to stray from it when necessary. Many of these poems are closer in scope to Charles Wright, the current Poet Laureate, and readers of her 2005 publication Defensive Measures: The Poetry of Niedecker, Bishop, Gluck, and Carson will see how they’ve influenced her writing throughout this collection.

The title poem begins the metaphor of the captured moment. The ‘ship in a bottle.’ This serves as a legend to the map of poems that Lee lays down for the rest of the book:  
If my ship sails
out of the bottle
and onto the shore will the day glitter,
a breakable souvenir
I doubt the one I love can be please anyhow.
That man would criticize Vermeer
for the way the milk pours.
The confessional poem is often redirected or even used without thought. It would be wrong to say that Upton is of the confessional school of poetry, but her individual experience trickles in readily enough. While the title poem rings with ideas—the means to dismantle future poems—it ends with a commentary on love. Her psyche and the history of art is brought into view as well. The Vermeer in question is much like the Mona Lisa, somewhat baffling for modern audiences. So to bring herself into comparison with the concentration of The Milkmaid is to shroud herself in mystery. But there can be no mistaking the beauty of the way the milk pours or the way the light works on the rough edges of the bread.

“Drunk at a Party” follows, and finishes with a line that has the consequence and absurdity of a James Tate poem: “What keeps a lobster / out of a tank.” This poem shimmers with the same spirit that “Ode on a Grecian Urn” gathers. Everyone knows the famous Keats poem and has probably had to digest it at some point or another. If over-reciting a poem could be said to have the effect of trivializing, than Keat’s masterwork may suffer. However, Upton breathes a fresh breath with her opening stanza: “Party­goers, / foster children of Xanax, / around and around and around they go.”

The opening stanza is the bacchanalia for the modern age. In Keats’s poem, the lover chases the one that he desires for a kiss. This spins around for eternity, an unfulfilled desire. Keats ends his poem with the very heavy-handed commentary on everything he observed, “Beauty is truth, truth beauty.” Upton does the same by combining the two elements that Keats observed in saying “Truth loves Beauty, / and Beauty hides his face.” This is a combination of the chase of the eternal kiss and the commentary that Keats himself tacked on to the end of his piece. Just as Keats’s urn involves a sacrifice, the poem that Upton captures in her bottle has this element as well. The sacrifice occurs when people consume the portions of culture that seem to numb and remove them from presence of mind. All that is beautiful hides its face. Lee’s “Ode” ends up being a far cry from the confessional poetry that pervades much of her work. This shows the symbiosis between her criticism of literature and the criticism of self that she brings forth to the reader.

As if taking from the master, Charles Wright’s “A Short History of the Shadow” is called to mind in Upton’s poem “The Shadow Must Find Its Shadow.” It finishes by stating that “Even a shadow wants its liberty / free of the body that bore it, / free of its little father.”

This is a further example of what Upton proves to do best: mimic and play with classics and the greats. The final poem “Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May” is one of the best and most staunch examples of what Upton has figured out how to do over the course of the book. It weaves classic poetry and paintings together by turning phrases and contorting them for the modern age. Bottle the Bottles the Bottles the Bottles is a handy book of poems for someone who may be interested in really exploring the whole universe and spectrum of other poets that awaits them.

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Review Posted on July 01, 2015

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