out of emptied cups by Anne Casey / Salmon Poetry / 2019 / 978-1-912561-74 / 101 pages
The title of Anne Casey’s second collection of poetry, out of emptied cups, is drawn from the pseudo-scientific experiment that tried to weigh the human soul by calculating the mass lost by patients after death. Casey’s award-winning poems not only plumb the soul, but stagger at the weight the soul must bear.
Her subject matter ranges from climate change “our slowly simmering one small blue planet,” to gender politics, the sins of the clergy, of international politics (Trump, unnamed, lurks in a couple of poems), the immigrant’s longing for home, spirituality, and the celebration of family, both the living and the dead.
It’s no surprise that Casey rarely uses capitalization. Her “i” is never consumed with self. In “Drive-through nation,” while she, in her air-conditioned car, drives past starved, bloated kangaroos and their rotting carcasses in a landscape of “skeletal trees and bleached-out fields,” she confesses that her life is “entitled” as she gags “behind the glass / on the unsmelt stench.” In “bull market,” she transforms an economic market in which share prices are rising into an actual raging bull that smashes children of the third world. She forces us to witness “boys with bleeding fingers sitting cross / hatched on warped boards knees / knocking elbows bumping in the / steamy dimness of some third world slum / nearby crypto-coin miners herding / mercurial figures ever onward,” and nine-year-old girls “sold for less than the price / of a return phonecall to a scam number / from your ivory tower mobile phone.” The poem ends in solidarity with “my slum / sisters and / and brothers.”
Casey, originally from Ireland and now living in Australia, has an ironic sensibility that packs a kangaroo’s wallop. One of her ecological poems, “THANK YOU FOR SHOPPING WITH US,” is in the form of an actual itemized supermarket-type receipt for the sale of our natural resources to industry. “Recipe for a Giant Pickle” instructs readers to “add in large quantities of unique fauna – particularly Black-Throated Finch / Add Wallum Frogs and Sugar Gliders for colour and sweetness.” The same sensibility comes into play as she writes about gender politics. You feel the rip of anger in “If wallets were skirts” when a man who lost his wallet is grilled by authorities with the same questions they would ask a woman who was raped.
what were you wearing
at the time
your wallet was stolen?
In “for all the #Metoos,” Casey writes:
I can’t help but feel
be a #MeaCulpaToo
In “crush,” named for an instrument invented by a veterinary surgeon in 1910 to crush testicles, Casey writes of her own rapist:
i didn’t wish him killed
only crushed just enough
that he would learn to exhale
the same stale breath of despair
he had filled me with over time
You can see how Casey comes up with an original way to exorcise her grief, her rage. “crush” is a three-for-one title standing for the instrument, the romantic crush she might once have felt for her attacker or he for her, and the emotional and physical experience of being crushed. Talk about economy of words! And look at how Casey unspools the phrases slowly, forcing us to stop by the space between phrases. She is directing the reader on how the poem is meant to be read—with the gasps of someone who experienced trauma.
Casey brings her music to the direst situations. Rhyme gives her emotional control and forces her to reach for surprising images, such as in “Lament for Aleppo”:
Even the buildings beat and bent
Have given up their allied front—
All the facades have fallen in
To crumpled spines and shattered shins;
Casey is both daring and playful. Her shaped poems are no mere decorations. “darkness,” shaped as a heart, is so menacing that some words are fractured as if we are stuttering through this nightmarish interior and exterior landscape where darkness is alive, a monster. I wouldn’t dare attempt setting it on the page the way she did, but here is the ninth line of “darkness”:
swallowing whole rooms in a single gulp
The long-stemmed cosmo glass shaping the poem, “heat,” gives Casey the structure to write an unpunctuated sibilant seduction.
suppressed surges swelling rising tides of unslaked desire
sweet wet slippage sliding into sublime simpering
Casey’s love poems have too much humor to slide into sentimentality. What a delightful burble of hyperbole is “Changeling,” a poem to and about her son, Jack:
Intoxicating breath-stealer, like those far-off
stars and love unfathomable
beauty, your radiant youth
standing aloft in this ice
Reading either Casey’s first book, where the lost things go, or out of emptied cups, you return to the deep pleasure of language, image, metaphor, music, what we all come to poetry for.