“Both Safe and In Danger Simultaneously”: A Review of “Between” by Kimberly Quiogue Andrews
Kimberly Quiogue Andrews won the 2017 New Women’s Voices Prize from Finishing Line Press for her collection, Between, and thanks be to publisher Leah Maines for making that call. Her poems in this chapbook fall somewhere between familiarity and ingeniousness, between what I know I know and what I didn’t know I knew until I read lines like “it’s the small, edible things / that help bring us into focus.” The limbo of tottering between states of being, the paradox of longing and self-loathing, of meaning and language, of desire and disdain, of here and now and there and then: isn’t that the central work of poetry?
Andrews’ Twitter bio identifies her as a “professional scrutinizer of poetry.” Her work as a literary critic keeps her lines economical and clean; there’s very little fluff in Between. The cover art feels vaguely planetary, sparse, sharp, while the san serif font of the poems emphasizes the simplicity of the presentation. (The first E in the title floats up just a smidgen and I could never quite puzzle out why that was necessary, but I’ll lodge that complaint in Finishing Line’s mailbox, not the poet’s.)
Andrews does not do simple titles. Many of the poems slide from long titles into first lines, giving an intimacy to the works—as if we’re reading over the poet’s shoulder as she journals or lists. The first poem of the collection, “The universe isn’t particularly concerned,” announces the book’s project and sets the tone for the rest of the poems—exactly as a first poem should do, right? However, “The universe…” doesn’t feel like an announcement so much as a begging pardon for the speaker’s small, inconsequential role, an admission of guilt and indecision. She acknowledges “too many birds in too many poems,” then almost playfully adds more birds to more poems. She can’t decide which tree to cut down, for “both were rising from the ground / in escape, that both were an essential spine.” She’s betweened the poem by beginning on the cosmic scale of the universe and ending with the “changeable space between molecules.”
I’ve never been good at categorizing poets by type: “prose poet” or “experimental poet” or what have you. Andrews seems equally comfortable with the language of and devoutly skeptical of the limits of these categories as well. She does a bit of everything, well, and this is part of the betweenyness of the work. She pairs brilliant metaphors with the narrative of doubt in trusting language, claiming she is “developing a crick / in the neck of my vowels.” She echoes and codifies our continual, collective frustration with and delight in the limits of language.
On the experimental side, “Love in the time of neglected tropical diseases” reads like a list poem that distracts itself. On the facing page, “Almost mum season; you can tell by the length of the days,” is a beautiful narrative poem that offers sycamores, dahlias, lilies, roses, and the “brainless / twittering” of sparrows. Later in the book, we reach “Favor: cleaning out the garage,” with the lines “I’m shuffling around the pieces of a puzzle / and let me tell you, this is a difficult puzzle….” Oh my. Yes. Yes, it is. It’s a witty book, too—with enviable images, like from the poem “Over the past few days of growth and destruction,” where “every moment has seemed long and brave, an overwintered carrot.” In reading this book, that was one of my clear “Damn I wish I’d thought of that!” moments.
Existing as an empathetic, thinking, feeling being on this planet in the year of our lord 2018 often feels like floating, like someone accidently pushed the hatch-open button on the spacecraft and we were ejected out into the cosmos without the tethering line. What the hell just happened? We are all between so many and so much, as Andrews articulates. Her poems capture the nearly Prufrockian anxiety, the constant self-questioning in contemporary culture, made more vivid when image after careful image brings each paradox into sharp relief.