In each issue of Tiferet, we include several book reviews to help bring awareness to other author’s work and give prospective readers a glimpse into what’s inside the books cover. This is an excerpt from Tiferet Poetry Editor Adele Kenny’s review of Wonderama by Catherine Doty.
Purchase our Autumn/Winter 2021 issue in digital format to read other reviews and the rest of the issue.
Wonderama, the long-awaited new collection by Catherine Doty is truly a wonder—as the title suggests, it offers the reader a wide view of childhood’s wonderments (both good and bad). Early in the collection, Doty relates the details of a physical assault she escaped as a child, beginning with:
What in hell are you doing
at night on the creepiest street
in South Paterson fussing with some
battery-busted wreck of a pink Barbie jeep
you found in the weeds and think you can
get to run? Oh, yeah, you live there… (Page 6)
And, yes! These poems are precisely where Doty lived. Following Momentum, her first book of poems, these poems revisit the fissures of childhood experience to find the deep truths they represent. As always, Doty does this with compassion, humor, and memorable imagery. Her lexicon is a dictionary of the young—hurting and only beginning to unravel a sense of understanding. In “What Does Not Kills Us,” Doty reflects on being left with her grandmother while her mother went out. She says that her orders were not to let her grandmother turn on the stove, to make her go to the bathroom, and not to let her eat any of the candy (with which Doty was paid) because sugar would kill her. Of course, Grandma ate some of the candy.
Grandma sat there not dying while mice whapped
cats with bricks, and a cow in a polka dot dress
made eyes at a horse. The living continued:
dying was a lie, like pick your nose and get
worms, or wear your snow boots inside
and get a headache. Two mice danced a tango
on checkered linoleum, then wrestled a stolen pie
through a hole in the wall. (Page 16)
Doty’s use of humor is one of her signature elements. Poetically nimble and with an eye that goes beyond the poverties of her childhood, she often responds to memory with a knowing smile. (Page 46)
In the kitchen, our happy mother plays Nelson Eddy so loud that it
the screams of the couple upstairs. She is the reason, she tells us, why we
are so smart,
and smarts you can’t buy, or we’d sell ours and get a TV.
This collection is a balanced and down-to-earth sampling of poems that speak to memories of people and place. All of the poems remind us of our own lost loved ones and bygone times, and they touch us with a familiarity that resonates on many levels.
CATHERINE DOTY is a poet, cartoonist, and educator. She has received prizes and fellowships from various organizations (including the National Endowment for the Arts, the NJ State Council on the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets), and has been a Dodge Foundation poet for many years. Her poems appear widely in journals and anthologies.
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