It's been a long time since I tried to review a book of poetry, which I don't think was ever my strong suit. As a matter of fact, in 2010 I didn't even read a single book of poetry, so reviewing one would be impossible.
As regular readers know, I'm trying to change that here in 2011, with a goal of reading roughly at least one poetry book a month. I'm aided in this by my pile of random poetry books that I grabbed over the past few years. Whenever I found them for a few bucks here and there, I'd peek at a few pages and see if the lines looked interesting. If they did, they ended up in my shopping basket.
This is not the best way to get excellent poetry, as I've discovered. It does, however, expose you to some interesting books. Adjust Your Set is pretty typical of the three I've tried so far (one of which was terrible and I stopped reading it). There are some awesome poetical moments, but the overall feel is just too uneven to make it a keeper.
Linda Stitt is apparently an older poet who has a few books out prior to this one. At the point this book is collected, she's reflecting on her life and what it means to be an older woman in society. When she's doing this, the results are often quite insightful. She talks about how she's less interested in sex or how she lived her life according to the rules and that it didn't get her anywhere. Other poems discuss her ex-husband (who presumably left her for a younger woman) or coming to grips with the ravages of time.
The concepts are perfect fodder for poetry. The problem is that Stitt tries too often to force her ideas into rhyme schemes, which take the good idea and torture it like humans do with a cat and a laser pointer. Like the cat who can't ever catch the bobbing light, Stitt can't capture the right feel when the seriousness of the verse is undermined by the need to Seussify her thoughts. The rhymes work okay when it is simply a stanza-long idea, but anything longer than that loses me in the sing-song nature of the words.
That's a shame because her free verse is quite good. In a poem about being forced into technology by her children (My New Literacy), Stitt discusses how her very poetry becomes stuff in the act of making it conform to the new computer she can write on. "The Matricide" is far too heavy-handed for my taste, but in the free verse format, Stitt clearly shows she can make allusions via her verse (in this case, that humanity is killing Mother Earth).
"Artifact" is a good example of what I mean:
I was offered a paint-by-the-numbers life
of circumscribed colours and designs,
with traditional patterns, nice and neat,
but I couldn't stay within the lines.
So I scribbled outside my social class,
my duties as mother and wife,
and I scrawled my name on experience.
It may not be art, but it's my life.
And often it stirs me into the crowd
and sometimes it sets me far apart.
It spatters my sense with splashes of bliss
and dashes love's pigments into my heart
and I am quite content with this
untidy life, my artless art.
That's a great way of artistically saying you didn't quite fit the mold. Unfortunately, there are also poems like "Forewarning" which starts thusly:
Look away from beauty,
beauty is to fear.
Beauty grabs you by the heart
and hauls you over here.
Beauty grabs you by the gut
and hurls you over there;
beauty shatters you to bits
and spreads you everywhere.
That seems like the chorus of a 1980s power ballad by a lesser hair-metal band, and the rest of the page-long poem doesn't get any better.
Overall, the good and bad match up roughly equally, making it hard for me to make a final judgment on this book. I think whether or not you'll be interested depends just how much you like rhymed poems. (I once knew a person who only liked rhymed verse, and considered anything else chopped up prose.) If you like or tolerate it, Adjust Your Set might be worth seeking out if you find a copy somewhere. If you are not a fan, then there's going to be too many pages you'll want to skip. I fall somewhere in-between. Adjust Your Set was good enough to finish, but I don't know that I'd actively look for more poems by Stitt.
Want to sample some of Adjust Your Set? A few preview pages are on Google Books.
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