12 September 2010
Book Notes on Elizabeth J. Colen's Money for Sunsets
Paperback, 90 pages
From Steel Toe Books
Reading Elizabeth Colen’s Money for Sunsets isn’t something that I could just once. After finishing the book, I needed to go back and reread the text with all the cues and nuances I picked up the first read.
Money for Sunsets has a persistent anxiety of certain danger. The end is near (now) ((maybe)). In her poem, “The Rules of Subduction” Colen urges the reader, “Read about tsunamis from a thick blue book. Read about the Big Ones, the ones that killed…” (10).
There is a luminosity to the voice that graces these poems. Call the voice adolescence or coming of age. Colen manages a self-doubt and bravado so compelling that I never questioned them coexisting within the same person.
After reading sections in this book, I was unable to sit still. The prose poems are filled with cars, travel, and motion. There is an energy, an immediacy that persists after you shut the cover. Someone (Auden?) said that poetry does nothing. Colen’s poetry says, “Go. Now. Faster.”
The musicality of the speech in Money for Sunsets carroomed off the page. In the poem “Take,” “Sweet, slow sound, her jaw rounding out the silence” (24).
This collection of prose poems is not only smart to the ear. There is a running commentary about the roles of women when conflated with money and power. In the poem “Synthesizer Approximating Strings,” Colen give the reader a hard look at violence against a sex worker, saying the forty dollars she was paid “buys here silence” (19).
Colen also gives a brilliantly scathing critique of oil and the implicit consumerism even in the best of us in her poem ‘The Next Cold War” “O’ my electronics never deceive me.” “My gas tank is filled with oil, my gas logs; oil, picture frames are wood or oil, but oil was used to make them…” (6).
Poetry this complex and urgent is a kind of reward for all the mediocre verse that I read.
Please do yourself a favor and buy a copy of Elizabeth Colen’s Money for Sunsets. Read it. This book is equally good read in a comfortable chair or pacing back and forth across the living room carpet. You can read it a second time, doing the other.