HOW THEY FELL (CavanKerry Press; October 2014; $16.00, paperback), Annie Boutelle’s third volume of poems, collects work that speaks to this acutely-attuned poet’s broad range of observations, perceptions, and literary styles. With poems rooted in both the real and the mythic, Boutelle taps her Scottish roots, hearkens to childhood and coming-of-age, and explores the often tenuous, sometimes dangerous interplay between woman and man. Her poems are steeped in allusions, but also peppered with whimsy and wit, as they ponder the everyday and the extraordinary.
The poet’s sense of duality takes precedence from the start:
Born in one country, I’ll die in another. And if
I dream, I’m where I was before I was: and if
I’m awake, I’m where I’ll be after I am; and hard
at times to tell which space.
Memories of a Scottish childhood unfold like photographs: a “father with the movie-star good looks,” a mother “fussing over bouquets for shut-ins,” and boys, “tall, loyal, clumsy,” the objects of jealous adolescent longing. Then come the inevitabilities: the end of innocence, the coming of love, of marriage, of life.
In the middle section of HOW THEY FELL, “Passage,” Boutelle reimagines the origin story of Adam and Eve after the Fall. In short, primal bites, these poems explores central questions of the birth of our race: “How could they know how far to the gate?” “How to see sky with so many leaves in the way?” “How to trust it was there?” These poems, sensuous, visceral, full of both fear and discovery, map the essential nature at the heart of the human experience, which is to say, the experience of being a man, a woman, a couple:
They weep for the place they found.
Its mystery and musk.
Its deep unease.
They weep for the place they cannot return to.
Each will refuse to forgive the other for many things.
But this night has nothing to do with forgiveness.
There is boundless wit woven through the lines of Boutelle’s verse. Eve discovers “Birds sang the same old songs./It annoyed her intensely.” In “Honey Blue,” a woman converses with her long ago removed uterus, which she encounters smoking a cigarette under a lamppost on Chestnut Street. There is a poem about the Pope’s toothpaste being FedExed to the Vatican from Germany, one about Queen Elizabeth’s hairdresser frustrated by the same old hairstyle, and another on the poet laureate losing his inspiration with “the sudden absence of pseudo-/ephedrine.”
Boutelle’s eye for the revelatory detail, her ear for a craggy consonance and airy assonance, and her mind with its well-honed intelligence, reveal and explore the self, in particular a self wrought from history, myth, and tradition,” said Eric Pankey of Nest of Thistles, winner of the Samuel French Morse Poetry Prize. With HOW THEY FELL, this gifted writer further illuminates her singular poetic vision.