A Review of Periscope Heart
by Rich Boucher
Right off the actual bat, I should quasi-recuse myself and say that personally speaking, poems and books of poems that mostly address the notion of love for another generally don’t do anything for me. It’s just a taste thing. So with that context understood, Periscope Heart, Kai Coggin’s first full-length collection of poems (and the twentieth publication from the marvelous Swimming with Elephants Publications, LLC) really had its work cut out for it. No joke; I’m being serious. I have read and heard a lot of poetry that addresses some kind of romance/desire with the big R, and much of that just makes me really tired really fast. Maybe I’m not mature enough – who knows? Hand me another beer, love.
But the thing is this: I just haven’t got tired yet; in fact, the work found in Periscope Heart is at times stimulating, energizing and enervating, surprising even me. I stroll on the paths in this book and frequently some soft tendril of very, very careful neologism and pun-craft loops around my torso, and I can’t move. I think Kai Coggin knows this. At some points in this book I’ve suspected Coggin of witchcraft. Kai made a believer out of me and believe me, something in me resisted. Love just isn’t in my wheelhouse; on any given day I’d be more given to burying myself in poems about fetishizing panties and hails of gunfire. And many of the poems (not all) in this volume carry the love as their banner into battle. And I found myself right beside Coggin and marching along.
I’m going to take the magnifying lens to a small handful of poems in this review, but I want you to get this book and sit with it on either an early Saturday morning or a late Sunday night. And I’m being serious about that, too. Maybe you don’t like being told what to do. I feel for you; I really do, but I’m telling you what to do anyway. And I’m the one holding the riding crop. My eyes got pulled to the title “Alchemy” right away, as this is a kind of pet favourite subject of mine. Coggin here gifts us with powerful turns of phrase (“…my tongue knew of only churches inside you…”) and takes the notions of fusion and dissolution and mutability and cleverly finds their examples in this examination of attraction and desire (“…only a touch of alchemy in my bones remains/because you have loved me to earthen clay in your hands….”). Any book that contains a poem that closes with the standalone line “I have turned into gold” is worth both the price of admission and its own weight in the precious metal.
“Planting Stars” is just one of those quietly glorious poems that founds itself upon an arresting image (“…I buried a handful/of stars deep into the soil…”) but it’s more than just one of those glorious poems, because where another, lesser poet might dally too long, fascinated by their own scintillating creation, Coggin takes only the amount of time necessary to bring to our line of sight what she sees, leaving us to choose how long and how often we’ll gaze upon such a pretty, miraculous concoction. As it turns out, we keep coming back to it over and over again.
Some poems, only the real good ones, can mimic the soul and feel of music, of a song that’s both sad and up in one measure, and “Siren” satisfies this tall, tall order very nicely. I think of lines like this one from “Siren”: “…wanting nothing but homecoming/nothing but a respite on the open shores of someone’s thighs…” and I know without a doubt that where the casual reader will silently gape, the reader who is also a writer will gasp at the easy, unhurried majesty found in Kai Coggin’s poetry.
And not for nothing, but this poet knows how to top off her poems with titles that pull you and tease from the tableau of contents (“That Day I was Jesus Christ (Total Eclipse of the Heart)”, “This is how to eat your past:”, “Willing My Body Parts”), and in a nice reversal of a coup de grâce, Periscope Heart comes to you wrapped up in a very handsome, deep-blue package featuring some captivating cover art by Arkansas artist Joann Saraydarian. There are fifty-four poems in this first volume; think of yourself as truly getting away with it when you buy this book.