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Verhille: Review of In the Ice house

BY DAN VERHILLE | AUGUST 30, 2012 6:30 AM

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It only takes a couple of pages of In the ice house for Genevieve Kaplan to prove she paid her dues in the harsh Iowan winters. In what could be considered tribute to howling winds and frigid temperatures, the collection of poems takes the view of the interior of a house that seems to be barely withstanding the elements.

Kaplan graduated from the University of California-Santa Cruz before attending the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and graduating with an M.F.A. in 2003. Unsurprisingly, the tone of her collection reads like cabin fever.

At times, the voice is tiny and indistinguishable from the icy landscape. Other times, the voice is in conflict with the domestic order of the household. Often it occupies itself observing how one cycle fits into another, ad infinitum.

Kaplan keeps close attention to the restless energies that compel us to sit and stand, over and over again. Ice house admires “the motion [of] the puzzle.”

Pass the steering wheel, and don’t be surprised when you spit out “spatula” and “wind” in the same mouthful. Kaplan can rove at a delirious pace between the kitchen and the forest with syntactical precision. Winter is just around the corner, so when the snowplows block you indoors, give Kaplan’s In the ice house a try if you want to give your cabin fever a more entertaining voice.

Because this is my first poetry review, I’d like to step back and address the practicality of these reviews for a moment. I realize that in all reality, the average reader won’t go out and buy a collection I’ve recommended.

While I hope I can inspire you into reading one collection or another this winter break, I’d settle for getting you to consider. Why are we so reluctant to read poetry?

We’re willing to read Twitter feeds chronicling the brutally mundane day-by-day agenda items of our acquaintances. We’ll read status updates, email inboxes, schedules, text messages, hard news, sports news, celebrity gossip, political updates, local retailers with discount prices, and what Wiz Khalifa is doing every three hours.

However, literary capital of the world or not, most of us are not reading the poets Iowa pumps out.
I know you probably don’t like poetry; most of us have enough puzzles in our lives. The myriad of life choices ahead of us keeps us up at night without the nagging persistence of a poet’s words coloring our interpretations of the world.

You don’t have time for poetry, it’s football season in Iowa, I understand. You don’t care for inaccessible garments and self-aggrandizing academic references, let’s talk Black and Gold and Big Ten history instead. Leave deliberately elusive allusions to the recluses who couldn’t tell the weak side of the football field from the strong side if a lifetime of iced coffees from Prairie Lights depended upon it.

What more do you need to be taught? You know at least one couplet: “In heaven there is no beer, that’s why we drink it here.”

Indulge me, if you have a moment, by imagining you’re freezing your fingers off at a tailgate and arguing with your friends about what was the greatest Iowa football play ever. You remember every detail: the year, the stadium, the weather, the atmosphere, the records, the road before, the impact of the game on the rest of the season, and victory on the line.

Bottle every little detail up in your head, then shake ’em around like your Cyclone buddy forgot to say, ‘Pretty please,’ when he asked for a beer. Now, when your buddy starts jawing about how your team has always “gotten lucky,” imagine you drop that perfect story on him like a ton of bricks.

Obviously, you don’t have time for every detail, but you toss in little flakes such as a veteran cook slanging spices in the game-day chili. You even remember the announcer’s lines word for word, such as Gary Dolphin before the catch, “Drew Tate doesn’t know … the game is going to end on this play.”

After erupting into “Touchdown Iowa” and repeating it a couple of times to cap off your passionate re-enactment, you go back to watch highlights with color commentary without ever considering that what you might have done is a kind of performance poetry.

Does it really seem that ridiculous that the two worlds overlap? I’m not suggesting that every game needs to have a poem written about it, but we’ve all got a friend who hushes the room when he tells stories.

If the story happens to be snowed-in and cabin fever, Genevieve Kaplan should be your go-to poet. If you’re not ready to dive into poetry until after the snow comes, take baby steps, and deliver your perfect-game story like you mean it.


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