A jewel of the collection is “Bonnet Contest,” ripe with lyrical lines and coupled with loose rhymes. Read silently or aloud, the reader can be endlessly entertained by the playful and adept use of assonance and alliteration.
Beyond indifferent daffodilsIn contrast to the dancing syllables seen here are foreboding images of sickness cast on birds and parents. These juxtapositions give the reader a glimpse into the house as it exists in Kaufman’s realm of metaphors, a place filled with an awareness of the imminent future and the fading past.
and bleary cherries, dollops
and fillips of tulips
girding the garden,
the willows are willing
This awareness extends to poems throughout House Music, exemplified in “Sakura Park,” where the “living words” of a friend continue on after her death, outlasting the time cried out by bells and other noises in “the cacophony of blather.” Again, in these lines, Kaufman shapes and guides her concepts with rhymes that lend a musical tone to the story-telling. Just as sickness accompanies the growth and renewal of “Bonnet Contest,” so do the bells in this short memorial poem ring sour; in every house there is loss.
Along with loss are strong thematic elements of the fleeting nature of life and those objects in our shared world that outlast it. The establishing line of “Waves,” the first poem, declares, “Permanent should be forever,” a claim that lingers and reemerges in especially poignant poems such as “Thieves”: a cry out over the loss of generational treasures and the sentiments that remain in their stead. The essential struggle of this theme is displayed in the concluding couplet: “Who can distinguish life from things? // One night of weeping on the train to Queens.” The house is real, the treasures are real, and the delicate features of even the most innocuous-seeming poem in this collection belie the deep concerns of our humanity.
Have no fear that Ellen Kaufman will lead you wandering on a pointless journey. Her word choices are unerring and her aim is true. Each poem is a finely tuned instrument that plays a different chord in the heart, some slow sadness, and some lilting with joy and fond remembrances. Without a sour note, Kaufman’s House Music will have you tuned in from the first page until the last line.