Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny

Source: Milkweed Editions
Paperback, 80 pgs
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Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny is a collection of prose poems in which cave drawings, pictographs, and petroglyphs the poet found in Montana come to life.  Readers are looking over her shoulder as she looks closely at these images while she wonders about the people who created them.  We begin near a cave in “Outside the Live Cave Spot” where we observe the opening as “lopsided, irregular dripping down like a lock of hair over someone’s eye.”  Things here are obscured from view, like the picture is not full.  It is just like the narrator of the poem, we get a glimpse of the life that was here, but something has been lost as humanity has moved away from pictorial communication to words on a page and online.  Many of these prose poems examine this sense of loss, a part of our culture that has disappeared into the ether, but it is still with us, as we can imagine and remind ourselves of what those lives must have been like.

From “Pictograph: Bird Site, Maze District” (pg 16)

“We recognize a figure, a brother, a twin, who is punished
for our disabilities, our own strangeness.  We are removed from
our families or we remove ourselves.”

From “Sign With Convergent Nested Elements” (pg 28)

“Sometimes things shine forth with their own
magnitude. Brushstroke of the mountain above the bank. As one ages,
it seems to me, one begins to separate from the body. One sees its frailties, it needs at a remove. Dimly lit, not important to return to.”

The narrator continues on this journey of discovery, which leads her to self-discovery. She examines not only the past, but also the faith it must have taken for those people to have lived and continue onward — a faith that she finds wobbles in herself.  The narrator is discovering more than she bargained for, making connections not only with the past but with the nature present before, like the mountain chickadee who wobbles before her in “The Wounded Bird.”  Here she is identifying with this bird’s struggle for life and noting her own inability to come to terms with god.

Pictograph: Poems by Melissa Kwasny contains some really stunning images and examinations of human evolution and struggle, but readers may connect with just a few poems in the collection at first.  “Kayak,” for instance, is the most removed from the idea of studying these ancient drawings in that the narrator is in the water surrounded by nature, but the effect is similar in that we have the power to blend in or to disturb or even to merely stand out by being ourselves, which can cause others to take flight.

About the Poet:

Melissa Kwasny is the author of the acclaimed poetry collections The Nine Senses (Milkweed Editions, 2011) Reading Novalis in Montana (Milkweed Editions, 2009), The Archival Birds (Bear Star Press, 2000), and Thistle (Lost Horse Press, 2006), which won the Idaho Prize in 2006. She is also the author of Pictograph, forthcoming in 2015. She is the editor of Toward the Open Field: Poets on the Art of Poetry 1800–1950 (Wesleyan University Press, 2004). Widely published in journals, including Willow Springs, Threepenny Review, Ploughshares, Poetry Northwest, Bellingham Review, Crab Orchard Review, and River Styx, she was recently the Richard Hugo Visiting Poet at the University of Montana and a Visiting Writer at the University of Wyoming. Kwasny received the Poetry Society of America’s 2009 Cecil Hemley Award for a series of poems that appears in The Nine Senses. She lives in Jefferson City, Montana.