These are the Gloria Stories
reviewed by Carleen Tibbetts
Although Kelin Loe begins her first full-length collection, These are the Gloria Stories, by snippeting one of Circe’s lines from The Odyssey (“Hearts of oak, did you go down alive into the homes of death? One visit finishes all men but yourselves, twice mortal”), these poems are far from lofty, stuffy, dense, dated, or any other negative descriptor attributed to an epic. Loe has tales to tell—“stories” is in the title. But they are tiny epics; Gloria Stories are not histories but herstories. They’re the abridged versions of the every day relationship subtleties all bleeding together, of a partnered interior life.
Following an introductory one-page poem, the book is ordered into, depending on how you look at it, four very long poems (stretched so that bursts of a few lines or sentences appear on each page) or broken into four separate sections: Biblicality, The Boxer, Good Manners, and The Motorist.
“Biblicality” is movingly tender and hilariously crass in its condensed version of a relationship. It’s the “epic lite” version of a relationship. Loe manages to pack so much heat into such little spaces, and does so with lines like, “We waited and blasted pragmatic and frantic past the immaculate break in the latex, patty/cake in our gas tank . . .” There is such heaviness and urgency here, but the reader is spatially given ample time to process without having to feel rushed. These poems might not hit as hard had they occupied the whole of the page. Loe understands the importance of caesura and that less is actually more. For example, she writes, “The tapping nails on this ultimatum matchboard watch me playing Mary. Take/anticipation like a bulb in the armpit, mistake in the bulgur.” That is the entirety of page 24 in her collection. Bulb in the armpit as in thermometer bulb? Bulb as in bulb of a flower? Bulb as in light bulb? Most likely a thermometer bulb, and, given the entire poem/section, most likely as taking one’s temperature pertains to fertility. Still, the possibility of that image . . . Loe’s language is raw and graphic: “Family pulping,” “thicket equipment/greater than every dick,” and “kited pudendum” are a few anatomical moments.
“The Boxer,” which is for Staff Sergeant Christopher McGurk, is the most intense section, both in tone and format. It is peppered with exclamations and question marks, words screamed in all caps, and periods and commas all intentionally spaced irregularly. This section borrows a sort of PTSD from the former Afghanistan veteran in its frenetic energy and language of agitation and breakage. Lines like
“HERE &npsp; &npsp; &npsp; I &npsp; &npsp; &npsp; AM &npsp; &npsp; &npsp; , &npsp; &npsp; HONEY POT &npsp; &npsp; ! &npsp; &npsp; ! &npsp; &npsp; !/i keep opening the internet like there is food in there” manage to still come off humorous although filled with such bizarre, sexually charged rage. The combative tone persists, drawing on McGurk’s disgust and trauma: “when i imagine FIGHT i am all PLOW and no PUNCH.” This poem/section is mostly from the point-of-view of a female speaker, though sometimes it’s difficult to know if that is the only voice running through the narrative. The speaker references a husband, says she will make lasagna in nothing but panties, but also says, “CONSIDER ME: i have been a gentleman” and “I WILL GROW MY HAIR UNTIL IT IS LONGER THAN MYTH.” And again, the body with all its graphic functions is present when unfiltered speaker has to poop, says men don’t wipe after urinating, and talks in absolutes like “every wet entrance to the body is a TELL.”
“Good Manners” is more of that gently vulgar relationship imagery from “Biblicality.” Loe’s speaker compares the scruff of a man’s neck to a Lincoln Log, her farts are mistaken for those of the dog, and vows to put her “best boob forward.” This section is another epic lite, but filled with little aphorisms such as “I told you to never trust silence in the bathroom” and “Loving anyone in the summer is excessive. Everything is already touching you./We didn’t ever run into any summers.”
“The Motorist” is perhaps where Loe most expertly makes use of caesura and space. Many of the lines are tabbed between phrases and Loe even inserts entire blank pages here and there. There is so much that hangs in the space between the words, in what is not “said,” and in the little areas of absence where the eye may rest.
Page 64 of the collection reads essentially like this in terms of its arrangement on the page:
Breathe this air here from my stomach. Breathe this air here I have plenty. Breathe this air here is the point we’ve all been in after— that is either a dead little toad or a wrapper. That is either an egg flower or look what the poor do for attention.
Loe gives the air she tells the reader to breathe room to exist here between her language she’s strung together, language in which urine rises like a knife, in which your fingernails are covered in the dusty cotton of feminine sanitary napkins, language in which mammoths chase after apple puppets. Kelin Loe introduces the collection with a promise: “I mean I can candle. . .” She’s a poet who remains true to her word.