Reviews - What do customers think about Zero Degrees at First Light?
A master of simile and metaphor. Mar 14, 2007
Christine Potter has a genius for simile and metaphor. The chintz couch borne by "pallbearers in dark clothing.'' The chlorine that "tastes like light should." The jet circling LaGuardia "trailing artificial thunder." The Hudson by moonlight, "an aluminum road upstate." And my favorite: "the thunder starting up like an old car somewhere down the darkening street." Her imagery makes diaphanous and transient nature magically vivid and palpable, and the whole book's packed with glittering moments that made me stop and marvel, "Yes, that's exactly how it looks!" I believe they call this the shock of recognition, and I was pleasantly shocked--often.
Subtle and Compelling Poetry Jan 11, 2007
Christine Potter's Zero Degrees at First Light is a collection of poems that takes nothing for granted. Her voice, experienced and clear, can also be vulnerable and unsettled. She tells us about life--about moving into a 200 year- old house, teaching with laryngitis, an encounter with The Crazy Old Lady Who Lives Across the Street. Her narratives and meditations, many written with extended, refracted lines, observe the common scene until the universal reveals itself anchored to a particular moment, supported by insights arrived at organically.
Many of these pieces are filtered through an almost elegiac tone. We watch Potter walk the tightrope of our times with heightened awareness that the next moment may change everything. "How quiet/we are, lost in the complicated normalcy of whatever is changing around us, /whatever is endlessly saying goodbye." (Last Warm Night on the Patio at the Italian Restaurant)
She sometimes pinpoints presence becoming absence with images of disappearing:
The roof line of your grandparents' house fades to cobalt, to indigo, and disappears in the night/like a round stone dropped in deep water. (To My Husband, Who Dreamed of Tidal Waves as His Father Was Dying)
And, in this poem about grief:
...The best is like waiting for snow all day: see it begin, see the most tender flakes dissolve in a creek that barely moves. Soon enough, everything else just disappears.(Talking to Beethoven, 1967)
The relationship between nature and self is explored with appreciation and respect. Images of light and sound from the physical world often connote the fluidity of escape, a sense of vacancy, a poignant lack.
So it all tumbles apart after an hour or two of watching: splashes of blue tangled in clouds, the stars bleached out, hidden under day, invisible as inner rooms of a neighbor's house. Everything but light lies. (To My Husband, Who Dreamed of Tidal Waves as His Father Was Dying)
It's someone's wedding veil, that light over the brook--
and how fast water moves under the footbridge, its strange, loud brilliance. (Sleeping in an Empty House)
These lines, grounded in nature, open out into a statement of faith--
...You believe in exactly what comes tomorrow: bright, harmless fog that clouds the windows as if something enormous had breathed upon them-- mercy that's blind, and steady as time. (Tornado Warnings After Dinner With Your Family in Indiana)
Attention is the faculty that Simone Weil called "the very substance of prayer." These poems attend to the senses, drawing us in with images that are precise, startling and evocative. Potter wends her way back in time and forward in psychological space, and an unknown place--the 200 year old house, for instance--begins to give up its secrets. "We haven't seen the single, perfect beam, half-covered with bark/ and marked with the swing of a forgotten axe/ that still supports the kitchen."
In "To My Husband, Who Dreamed of Tidal Waves as His Father Was Dying," the movement of time pushes us to think about the departures and arrivals in our own lives. "You and I have not arrived, yet. Your father/has just been born, and the story of what will happen next/is taking a breath before it can go on." Eliot says, "Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning," and Potter comes to her conclusions patiently, all the while condensing and distilling the perceptions she gathers.
The poet's contemplative tone doesn't exclude joy or humor. Her subjects are not constrained by the form in any of her more traditional poems. She has a modern style inclusive of traditional elements and the poems are accessible, with no forced rhymes, meanings that are subtle and resonant. The following sonnet's simplicity yields a complex emotional center:
On the Closing of Ichi-Riki, Nyack, NY (Where I Have Eaten For Twenty Years)
When dining on sashimi seemed as dear as ninety-minute phone calls, out of state, to boyfriends I should never have gone near, I came here anyway and cleaned my plate
of everything except that spikey herb, the garnish, near the ginger and wasabi-- but since I'm older, I am undisturbed by doomed relationships, my former hobby.
Now I can order toro without guilt and easily afford to pay the bill, this restaurant's closing and my youth is spilt. Epiphany at last; I feel its chill:
time's passage is the most expensive dish, a truth in life and love--and in raw fish.
The final couplet briskly brings the details in this richly textured picture to a satisfying close.
"Hundreds of people can talk for one who can think, but thousands can think for one who can see," Ruskin once said. A sense of recognition and renewal is evident in the poet's reach toward the metaphysical. The war poems recall the blurring of vision often examined in Denise Levertov's war poems.
6:40 AM, Just Before the War
It's always been January, salt blown like tired snow to the curb, sky salt-colored but for frostbitten pink toward the East, in the squeaking cold.
The sun rises battened under thick clouds, indifferent to day as someone who flicks on a light in an empty room. He's forgotten the name
of the people who live downstairs, and doesn't believe Spring will ever come. He pulls a grey sweater over his head, just to hear static crack in the wool.
I used to know him, but not anymore. On television, the President keeps speaking and speaking about queasy possibility. I wait for the blizzard I dreamed of last week,
but it doesn't matter; they always load the planes in January. Already, the war correspondents comb their hair in hotel mirrors, too tired for reason, the winter too far gone.
My favorite poem from this luminous collection is an affirmation of a basic truth--being alive embraces both pain and joy. This is one of the strengths of Potter's poetry: her vision of the temporary and dangerous nature of life coupled with a deep appreciation for that life. To tell us about it is her job as a poet, and she does it very well.
In Pennsylvania, there are two sisters in their forties who declined surgery and have lived like light through a glass of water: perfectly transparent, containing each other. I wonder about traffic passing their street, the solitary drivers listening to sad songs on the radio, taking travel for granted.
I think of the cold, buzzing windowpane of a jet over Nebraska on a sharp blue day; being the one who sees the plane's shadow move over yellow and green fields and being the one who is the shadow. Of a flag straining, taut as a sail in the wind, and the percussion of its grommets on the metal pole, of being both bell and bright symbol, reined in by a rope of breath and heartbeat, knowing nothing else.
The doctors who are operating on two brothers just down the road from here will not separate them today, although they could. There is a long process involved, like understanding art, or forgiving yourself for something you never meant to do, but somehow had to anyway, something as inescapable as your own voice twinned with your best effort. With patience, most of us survive. Look how the afternoon proceeds quite well without you, one minute at a time, alone.
A fine book to get lost in Nov 17, 2006
Early on, those poems which evoke something of the poet's delighted love for her husband and the way this is complexly informed by their respective families and pasts were the first to grab me, but as I continued, I found that the book contained several wide-ranging effective registers. Perhaps because this book is so profoundly resonant with places, I found the freedom to get "lost" in it, as Christine Potter puts it so beautifully herself in "Talking to Beethoven, 1967": "...Music sounds different/ to me now. The best is like waiting for snow/ all day: see it begin, see the most tender flakes dissolve/ in a creek that barely moves. Soon enough, /everything else just disappears." This is not a book of escapism, however, except insofar as it points out that human tendency with some appreciation for its comforting services, but one which wrestles and which at times hits a prophetic note (it dares to contain poems with titles such as "A National Anthem" and "A Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church"); her voice rings at once with what would seem to be surety of mental or emotional postures on various issues, social (that is, the war) and spiritual, but the overtones and "half-muffled changes" of the bell are full of questions and longing: "Sometimes I fear all I have done/ is not enough, that I have to be truthful besides,/ and wise as the end of time..." "All that suspends any of this is hope/ that God is a bell which must soon awaken me,/ a constant, flawless performance I lack ears to hear/ but real and fleeting as any other music." I look forward to hearing more of what these ears pick up; it is a fine debut.
Deborah J. Shore
360 Degree Views From Here Nov 15, 2006
Meshing time past, time present, and time future; as profound in what isn't said as in what is; raising myriad questions left unanswered through precisely observed and richly suggestive details of the mundane moment. Reading these poems filled me with ideas, recollections, and emotions. And isn't that the point? I highly recommend this book