What We’re Reading: The Maps are Words
A letterpress chapbook of six ghazals, The Maps are Words is a cyclical journey on the backs of language and geography that fits the small chapbook style well. The poems are quietly searching, a finger tracing lines on a map, learning the curves of topography, rediscovering history, and following the evolution of words. The tone is comforting, yet probing in its inquisitive and insightful meanderings. Age and generations of families, farm and city, plants and mountains, maps and poets all make up the repelling and attracting forces of Willow’s world.
These ghazals are a loose contemporary echo of the traditional unrequited love-based form with rhyming couplets. All poems take the form of couplets, many of the lines have the same or similar meter, and some of the poems have recurring words in the couplets. But Willow isn’t afraid to break the form and make these ghazals her own. The whole chapbook takes on the cyclical tide of the traditional ghazal, with the opening couplet of the first poem echoed in the closing couplet of the final poem.
The strongest poem of chapbook is the title poem, which is also the final poem mentioned above. An excerpt:
The blue lines and the red lines cross over Des Moines.
The thin hum of tires rhymes with nothing.
Arteries throb their freight toward organs and tissue.
History goes varicose when left unspoken.
Potholes in late February reveal layers of sediment.
The cycle of freeze and thaw fissures history.
Fencerows, quarter mile markers, townships, creek beds.
Before that: milkweed, wild carrot, foxtail, hawk.
Language changes, and with it, flora, fauna:
Sioux city. Spillville. Dandelion. Sparrow.
The book itself is a journey through history, with the historical letterpress text inhabiting each page, and thick, delicious handmade paper holding the text down. Yet it feels very contemporary with its sparse, clean design, and the voice of the poet within.
How important do you think it is for a writer to stick to traditional forms, when evoking them? Is poetry limited by form?