A review of All Beautiful & Useless by C. Kubasta
by Stacy Cartledge
C. Kubasta, All Beautiful & Useless. New York: BlazeVox, 2015. 104 pp.
It’s not until the penultimate poem of C. Kubasta’s first full-length collection that we
learn the book’s title, All Beautiful & Useless, comes from a description of “a roadkill
doe” and her “twin fawns.” While the image may echo Stafford’s “Traveling through
the Dark,” Kubasta engages in a different comparison—but more on that later.
Kubasta’s nascent deer wind up bottled in formaldehyde for high school science
students to study. In taking this particular description for the collection’s title, she
indicates that her poems are like these fawns: beautiful & horrifying, fascinating &
fragmented, compelling yet malleable objects d’étude.
She’s not wrong.
Take, for example, Kubasta’s continuing gestures towards the epic. The book is divided
into three sections, each with its own set of poems, yet these poems collude with one
another, picking up previous motifs at unexpected moments and connecting
conversations that the reader realizes only in retrospect are still continuing. Because
she wants these poems to accomplish so much, there are some occasional slides into
indulgence, but one must admire Kubasta’s brazenness, which stops short of hubris yet
allows her to appropriate at will, to use any genre, voice, or technique towards her
purpose. I’m thinking here especially of some noteworthy structural choices made in
the last three poems of the book’s first section: a modified sonnet set (“A Consideration
of Whether Time is Tensed or Tense-less” & “To What Degree Past, Present and
Future is Equally Real”) and a genre-bending piece, “Sweetbitter,” a poem in
screenplay format in which the poem being in screenplay format is one of its topics.
This piece in particular articulates a central tension in Kubatsa’s work:
The problem is the poet is always
the subject of the poem. Always,
even when (especially then)
The dilemma is a real one, and there is no doubt in the verdict Kubasta renders here. I
can’t disagree, either (though I don’t necessarily concur that the verdict should be
quite so liberating). Turning back to the rest of part one with this artistic principle in
mind, we see just how Kubasta’s voice interweaves—sometimes echoing, sometimes
juxtaposing, sometimes paralleling—that of nine-year-old Elizabeth Parris, accuser of
witches in Salem and daughter of that town’s Reverend. Kubasta also speaks to and of
her own father in this multipart poem, which considers itself an act that invites a
declaration of war (“Casus Belli”). It may seem fitting, then, that there are military-style
redactions in the section dealing with the father. One could be forgiven for assuming
them to be simple artifice, the thick black line a gimmick rather than a true redaction.
However, it should be known that this is not the case. As I am reviewing the
manuscript in its galley proof (the book was published the first week of September
2015, after I accepted the assignment), I received the manuscript in electronic form—
twice, in fact, and I think erroneously. In one draft, the redacted passages are not
blacked out. I won’t violate the poet’s wishes, but I will say I disagree with the decision
to eliminate so much material. The speaker’s assertion that there are stories that could
be told does not approach the power of the stories themselves in developing the
father’s character and the daughter’s relationship to him. When she says, “I’m afraid
he will ask me questions and I will tell the truth,” the redactions inform the reader that
it won’t be the whole truth.
This speaker who holds back is hard to reconcile with the one from the book’s second
and third sections, who unflinchingly examines the monstrosity of childhood sexual
abuse and the horrors of serial killer Ed Gein (the true-life template for Hitchcock’s
Norman Bates) with such nuance and honesty that it becomes a kind of compassion. In
allowing compelling beauty to be ascertained from horrendous acts, she elicits from
the reader time and again a response as profound and powerful as any I have ever felt
from a reading experience.
Read the whole review here
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