March 2007

Aysha Somasundaram

poetry

Inkblot and Altar by Laura Van Prooyen

Laura Van Prooyen’s Inkblot and Altar -- as its suggestive title signals -- attempts to wed the mundane, profane and divine. Van Prooyen writes interchangeably and sometimes concomitantly about faith, motherhood, love and lust. Unfortunately, the slim volume of poetry does not cohere or offer any particular insights and only rarely does its language soothe or provoke any response other than disappointed expectation.

Many of the poems such as “Exile” thematically reference or draw upon Christian imagery. “Exile” is a poem that exemplifies much of my frustration with Van Prooyen’s poetry. It begins: “Moses, my Moses, stand on this hill and be damned if I am not your promised land. You’ve been wandering too long and I lie here outstretched, outpoured. God’s got a grudge, dear boy. He has not forgotten the way we came together, my rock smitten by your rod. Water flowed freely and yes, it tasted good.” Ostensibly, Van Prooyen’s description of the interplay between Moses and the would-be-promised land renders them star crossed lovers separated by a capricious God. “Alas, this vengeful God cares little for us or out longing.” Where it seeks to be subversive, the poem’s heavy-handedness instead makes it peculiar. Van Prooyen’s voicing of the land is curiously awkward and clipped; the carnal nature of love she appears to be highlighting does not coexist plausibly with the preachiness of the admonition warning of God’s displeasure at the visceral ties between the parted land and Moses.

Arguably, Van Prooyen intends for this and a number of her other poems to do double duty -- as devotional and carnal expressions of attachments. Van Prooyen’s failure to commit to a religious or secular tenor often handicaps her, making much of her writing unreadable as either. This is particularly evident in the final poem, “Christ, I Adore You” where she writes, “You hate it when I call you Christ-like hate it from the bottom of your well-spring soul, from the cockles of your blessed heart to tips of bloodied toes. What else can I call you who suffered this my Judas kiss (remiss! remiss!) and in three days, three hours three minutes reassured, erected, resurrected reconciled all I wrecked.” When Van Prooyen ends the poem,“Christ, I adore you. Christ, you’re mine,” she could either be addressing Christ directly or her husband, having taken the Lord’s name in vain. This phrasing reads more like a chicanery than cleverly executed double entendre.

The poems in the collection which succeed are the most direct and succinct such as “Just Like Suitcase” where a woman lover is paralleled to a suitcase or “Mosaic” which is a scant four lines. Van Prooyen does occasionally turn a phrase or evoke imagery that has some melancholic beauty such as in “Mosaic”: “His walking away has become a ritual. Waiting for the turnaround, she aches like broken pottery.” With a few exceptions, the stiffness and banality of Van Prooyen’s writing makes her poetry uneven and, on the whole, unsatisfying.

Inkblot and Altar by Laura Van Prooyen
Pecan Grove Press
ISBN: 1931247374
58 Pages