Debris Field

By Miriam N. Kotzin

WordTech. 90 pp. $18.96 nolead ends

Miriam Kotzin is a Vineland-area poet, a Drexel professor, and an editor of the fine local journal Per Contra. Debris Field is a rangy exhibit of what she can do, her mastery of emotions and poetic forms.

Kotzin loves form, from open verse to tight, traditional sonnets, as in the title poem. What a central metaphor the debris field is, for so much of our lives:

The experts want to know how far the field

extends. Men search for the black box and flight

recorder, hoping they've survived to yield

some answers. And it's bag and tag till night.

The field, you feel, extends a little farther than we know.

The book opens with a fusillade of keen, musical poems about Kotzin's facedown with cancer. They observe; they let fear be fear, as in "Miriam's Samsong":

Here is a woman who's been diagnosed. . . .

Here is a woman whose questions are posed.

Here is a woman whose face is composed.

Here is a woman they opened and closed.

Here is a woman whose future's foreclosed.

This is also a book of nature poetry. Skies ("The morning sky's a scandal: Scarlett streaks / Across a Maxfield Parrish blue") and birds fly large. In a poem modeled on Mary Oliver's popular "Wild Geese," Kotzin writes the painful and lovely lines:

Wherever we are, no matter how distant,

the herons return themselves to our memory,

call to us like the cradled mourning,

patient and ready

So different from Oliver's lines:

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

Less readily affirmative than Oliver, Kotzin does love togetherness and the comforts of memory. The eight-line sestina variant "Sojourners" snags on the line "felled by beauty," a devastated love of the silent now. These poems are great teachers of that love.

Plenty of fun here, especially in poems channeling Shakespeare (she turns Sonnet 18 into a poem for an old friend, concluding, "I'd give my all to see/ Another perfect Autumn day with thee"), Christopher Marlowe, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe (I laughed out loud at her version of "The Bells"), John Berryman, and other poets.

Miriam Kotzin can do anything. I suggest you let her do anything to you.