Scheduled, Unscheduled Appointments


Gayle Elen Harvey

Scheduled, Unscheduled Appointments
Spire Press
52 pages, $7.95

Gayle Elen Harvey’s new collection, Scheduled, Unscheduled Appointments, is a mix of poems about death, places and paintings.  Many are elegiac.  In “Second Snow,” the narrator remembers her brother:

Trees grow wild in the pasture.
Perhaps it’s the hour when the heart, losing track
stops hammering. Always a bad bit of timing.

Mother, father and friends are also addressed.  These poems often present the reader with a landscape so personal that the uninformed reader is left to ponder.  In the book’s titular poem, “The Wish,” Harvey addresses grief, but never pins it to anything specific:

Death drains the hours. Calloused-winged, it nests in
swamps and, even now,
is lying in wait in backyards, keeping scheduled,
unscheduled appointments.

In the most memorable of these elegies, Harvey addresses the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.  She begins the poem with a quote from astronaut Storey Musgrove:  “It’s a beautiful butterfly bolted to a bullet.”  She then recreates the view from the shuttle itself, allowing the reader to experience great beauty even in the midst of tragedy:

Outside your window, a world hardly more
than the least hint
of green.
A feeling of transparency deepens
as you wake above the sky’s bluest vinyl.
(“Elegy for Seven”)

Interspersed with the elegy poems are wonderfully imagined poems about specific places, including Leningrad, Angkor Wat and Otsego Lake. In “Leningrad Symphony,” Harvey’s eye for detail brings the reader a sense of immediacy: 

Through a window’s icy scab, a clarinet gleams, indecent,
with mildew.  It festers.
The tea-pot is frozen to her table.
This is a city of women.  Their silence is everything. Hope
and the lack of it.

Harvey is at her best when writing about art, sculpture, painting.  Her ekphrastic poems run the gamut from the most well known pieces of art, as in “Bouquet With Flying Lovers (Marc Chagall)” to more abstract, lesser known works.  Reading these poems is like taking a tour through a fascinating interior art gallery.  Harvey’s sense of color and texture are beautifully communicated in these poems.  In “Interior Of Beeswax Chamber (Wolfgang Laib),” Harvey takes us into one of Laib’s huge beeswax corridors with:

Stickled nectars seized in
pitch, throbbing coppery, these walls far too heavy,
out of order, with their slick scent, apiarial
in prophetic slabs.

Burnished flax, ravened
lacquers in labyrinthine passageways.
Bare-bulbed, wax-beaded, these ebonied chambers.

Harvey is a poet who observes her world carefully and knows how to involve the reader in sharing this vision.

—Rebecca Loudon

Copyright © 2004 Rebecca Loudon.  All Rights Reserved.

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