Teaching a friend's book

Today I began discussing Gabrielle Calvocoressi's The Last Time I Saw Amelia Earhart in my LIT classes. I've discovered something about my reading of poetry--I don't really get a poem until I teach it, I think, and the same goes for collections. And I've noticed something going on in this book that I didn't get before.

From the first poem, "Pastoral," Calvocoressi is telling the reader that she's going to blur the lines between poetry and prose, and she does so in more than one way. "Pastoral" is a prose poem that deals with the Ohio landscape and the rescue of a dog that falls through pond ice, and the Ohio landscape comes back again and again in the poem, most notably in the poem "Suite Billy Strayhorn."

But her blurring of the lines comes most notably in her long poems, which make up the majority of the book. The title poem is ten sections long. "Suite Billy Strayhorn" is five. "From the Adult Drive In" is nine sections and is split up throughout the book. And the longest of all, at 23 pages, a third of the book, is "After the Circus Fire." But while these long poems carry their own narrative threads, there is no question but that these are poems, fully contained and realized in their own rights.

In the title poem, each section is written in a different voice, and Calvocoressi alternates the voices between Earhart's fans (for lack of a better term) and those personally close to her, ending with a poem written in the voice of her husband after her disappearance. Section III, subtitled "Diane McGinty, St. Mary's Home for Wayward Girls," does the impressive job of being both about Earhart and not about her at the same time. After describing the lot in life for a resident of the home, McGinty says

I don't think she meant for it to happen.
She probably just lost control
and before she knew,

everything had changed.
I bet she was scared all along
but couldn't tell anyone

because they'd just say
she got herself into this mess
and had better get herself out.
Take this poem out of the context of Earhart's life and it still works on the level of the life of an unmarried pregnant woman in an earlier time. But surrounded by the narrative of Earhart's last flight, it becomes a voice looking for a way to relate to one of the most famous women of her time.

I'm looking forward to the next week and a half, and seeing what else I discover in this book of poems.

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