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Driving Montana, Alone

  • Image: Image
  • Book Type: Poetry
  • by: Katie Phillips
  • Date Published: 2010
  • ISBN-13: 978-0-9820626-3-0
  • Format: Chapbook
  • Pages: 41pp
  • Price: $12.00
  • Review by: Sima Rabinowitz

There are only 500 copies of this priceless little postcard book and I am the proud owner of #161. Reminiscent of the linked postcard books available on those little turning stands in shops and drugstores and souvenir outlets in tourist towns, the top-bound spiral book of photos (all but the title page by Ron Rapp were taken by the poet) and poems was the winner of the press’s 2010 chapbook competition. The poems are stark little stories that match the landscapes depicted. They reflect the same sense of poetic sensitivity and originality the poet demonstrates in her title’s punctuation (that extraordinary comma).

Especially appealing are the contrast between the four-color covers and the black and white of almost all of the interior photos (there are only two color photos between covers); the balance of vertical and horizontal pages; the play between long-view and close-focus images; and, finally, the spare verse that, like the landscapes and photos to which it is linked, is somehow both vast and narrowly focused:

I wrote October and meant it. Something would not
let me say November, gateway to winter,
where weather in the air is mood on the ground.

As an insomniac myself, I appreciate “Insomniac’s Prayer,” aligned with a photo of a wide, wild prairie sky: “Please, Lord, send jazz soon”; the unabashed emotion of the title poem:

I want you to see these dark rotting barns,
roadkill of Highway One. It seems only you
could know why my eyes fill the road
with tears again when a flock of swallows
swoops through an open barn door
and rushes out the gaping roof

the juxtapositions of photos and text that seem odd, but also just right. The following lines appear below a stunning photo of tall pines lining a narrow, densely snow-packed road (the poem is “Explanation”):

Your mother loved spring,
but you were conceived in winter,
born in fall, and she could not
keep autumn out of you.

This highly original book, designed by Edward Rayher of Swamp Press in Northfield, Minnesota, is not a gimmick. The poems are beautifully composed, simply, thoughtfully rendered, as emotionally compelling as the landscape to which they’re linked visually and physically with the sturdy black coil binding. This is not, despite the allusion, a quick tourist stop. You will want to linger.

By all accounts, there are 499 of these little books in addition to the one I now own and intend to keep. So, I’d suggest you figure out how to get yours soon, before the poetry tourists buy them up.

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Review Posted on March 14, 2011

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