Jude Warne

Review of Awful Baby by Mary Lou Buschi
Clarksville, TN: Red Paint Hill Publishing, 2015. 80 pp $10 Paperback

Mary Lou Buschi's newest book of poems, Awful Baby, is as full of shadow and light as its title suggests. A phrase borrowed from the poem "Tulips" by Sylvia Plath, who was a shadow-and-light lady herself, the title Awful Baby also hints at what the book intends to explore: the relationship between an individual's identity her family's identity, and where and when and how often these identities intersect. Also explored is the evolution of these relationships and how it corresponds to the maturation journey. Though many of the poems in Awful Baby seem to be direct recollections of moments in Buschi's past, she manages to inject them with reviving shots of insight and christen them new, thus making them moments that all readers can theoretically claim as their own.

Form-wise, this three-sectioned work is all over the poetic map. The pieces range from paragraphed prose poems to mini-multi-sectioned poems to broken-stanza, broken-sentence poems. Each piece is perfectly suited to its selected form of expression, however; Buschi is a considerate and deliberate writer. Content-wise, this familial and earth-concerned-sky-infused book explores the territory of character-forming locations. These locations are liminal ones that exist as large and malleable memory places in our own pasts and presents. Her most compelling thematic articulations are those of murky adolescence: "Each star above us—a fiery narcissus / as lost and important as we feel..." ("The False Light"). Perhaps most intriguing here is the dialogue that Buschi conducts, a dialogue that dissects grief and its effects upon a family unit: "It's those cats. / I can't stand them. / They are branches. / Your brother is cat. / Dead like the branches" ("Hallucinations upon Dying")—and—"A daughter can't make a mirror box big enough to hold her mother's grief. / She can only reflect it back to her by showing her the living face" ("The Mirror Box"). Though these allusions might be direct references to family members' tragic ends or just metaphorical translations of familial emotions, the weighty impact of these poems is impossible to ignore. Poetry can lose some of its potential for communication if it remains highly specific to its poet—but Buschi avoids this pitfall by using the concentration of family, an area that every reader can relate to in some capacity. By writing specifically, Buschi achieves ultimate generality, which then creates a sense of intimacy for all.

It may be that what is most impressive about this collection is the myriad of cultural and artistic references included within. Some poems are dedicated to Louise Gluck; some poems take their titles from Emily Dickinson's words; some poems quote Steely Dan lyrics. (Also, it helps that Buschi happens to have supercool taste in art—frankly it seems that there is an ongoing - and intensely disturbing - deficit of Steely Dan references in modern poetry—and in day-to-day existence, for that matter. Awful Baby helps to correct this shortfall, and SD fans everywhere, including this reviewer, truly appreciate it.) Such homages indicate Buschi's artistic awareness, one that many poets fail to articulate with any sort of clarity—the knowledge that any new work of art builds upon those that have come before it and simultaneously creates a new work that will be built upon by future artists.

You can purchase Awful Baby here.

Jude Warne is the music columnist at Red Paint Hill Journal, an In-the-Field correspondent at Film International, a jazz critic at CMUSE, and a contributing writer at Live for Live Music and The Vinyl District.  She has also written numerous reviews for Senses of Cinema, Film Matters, Journal of Popular Music & Society, KGB Lit Review, and Scope. Her Master of Arts degree is from NYU's Draper Program of Humanities and Social Thought.

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