Book Review: From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum
Reviewed by Audrey Davis
A charming and refreshing collection that kindles the imagination
Kathleen Balma explores a range of odd topics for this poetry collection, centering the theme around imaginative episodes and punchy takes.
The initial poem prompts readers to consider their place in the world, to contemplate how you appear to those around you and examine your own comfort with your surroundings. The speaker posits that you shouldn’t try make yourself comfortable if you aren’t, that other places may have more to offer if you’re itching for a change— “Why make amends when you can make haste?” It extends a modest and relatively low level of curiosity, suggesting to readers that they should be at least a little prepared for and open-minded about the reflections in the coming pages.
But it cannot prepare the reader for the second poem, which sends the imagination into overdrive and that curiosity level through the roof. From there, the reader gets a feeling of “please keep arms and legs inside the ride at all times,” especially with the titular poem.
Each piece takes its own pathway through contemplation, none of which end up at the same destination. The author might speak frankly about Abraham Lincoln, or some “porkiflower,” then release the readers’ frenzied mind onto a completely different topic. The direction of the first section is unpredictable, but I believe that’s part of what keeps the pages turning.
Balma’s dry humor and witty delivery enhance every bizarre idea presented. What if Sirens went to summer camp? What would realistically happen if you could stop time? Picturing the possibilities is entertaining, and this collection is not afraid to laugh at itself, to laugh with the outlandish, to prove it’s okay to daydream. This being said, the silliness doesn’t detract from the sincerity of other poems, such as the idea of “what if nature is tired of being a mother?” or perhaps the somber “ghastly casts” of deceased Pompeii citizens still having “customer service complaints” for a brothel.
The second section is an ekphrastic documentary on snub-nose monkeys, focusing mainly on the familial relationship between two brothers. There is a notable shift to a more solemn tone, as the focus of the collection changes from musings to survival instincts of the monkeys, but the reader is given plenty of tools to visualize scenes very well through concise description of actions and emotions. Much like the first section, the language is constructed to keep the reader engaged until the end, yet the word choice is gentler than before, and there aren’t any stark transitions. Balma incorporates a good handful of pop culture and literary references throughout, and it’s a nice touch to have a notes section about some of the lesser-known items.
This collection is wonderful for someone who may not read poetry often or someone looking for a nice intermission from the occasionally weighty emotional angle that can come with other poetry collections. Balma knows how to keep readers engaged. From Your Hostess at the T&A Museum provides a “paws-on education” along with a loving look at perception and desire.
Publisher: Eyewear Publishing
Print Length: 96 pages
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