“Craft is a trick you make up to let you write a poem”
“Tell almost the whole story.”
Elizabeth Horner Turner’s chapbook The Tales of Flaxie Char (Dancing Girl Press, 2017) is innovative. Each poem is a vignette in the main character’s life that has become tragic after her mother’s death. This is a collection of fifteen poems and taken together they read like serial of short stories in verse form.
It is in the first poem, Off the Record, that we first meet Flaxie Char and we are told that she lived long ago, and her story starts after her mother dies: “Flaxie Char began her beguine long ago with her mother beneath the ancient oak trees.” A beguine is a dance form popular in the 1930s, but this term is ironic, because Flaxie’s life is far from a lovely dance. Flaxie knows this: “She knows what she knew was over, no more mother or myths to plead to.”
Another poem, A Personal Ouija Board further expolres Flaxie’s mother’s death. The author shows the tenderness between Flaxie and her mother with the line “She picked flowers to tuck in her mother’s bed.” She implies a clairvoyance between the two women with the line “Flaxie knew this was coming, daughters often know, that very day, her wings paused, shook, and zoomed her right to the ground.”
Just So Much More Than Night Sweats explores the line between the fantastical and insanity in a woman pushed to the brink by tragedy with the line: “that puddles of tears would curl up her wings, cause dreams of stars shivering out to their own endings.” Despite all the effort and hard work she does, she is at a precipice “on the roof” and has been brought there at least partly by her own doctor. The repetition in the words “Thorazine. Clorazine. Clorox” works well to show difficult things have become for Flaxie.
All of the poems in this collection were able to hook me in to Flaxie’s life, so that I kept on reading with interest to find out what happens to her at the end of the story. The author has told a gripping tale, but with her poems she does not tell the whole story. She leaves much open for interpretation, as is often the case in effective poetry.
My favorite poem in this collection is the last poem, Breakfast Eulogy, and it works very well as an ending to Flaxie’s story. This is a sad poem, set at Flaxie’s mother’s funeral. The line that has Flaxie talking to other guests at the funeral is heartbreaking: “She made the best cinnamon toast. It crunched and sometimes the butter dripped through my toes.” But Flaxie will recover her powers as a fairy, and really as a woman and a human being: “After the service, she ate the deviled eggs and her wing stumps hummed when the tears all dried.” As a person who has experienced great loss personally (my mother died when I was a young woman) this poem really affected me, and I was elated to find at the end of the poem that her mother is still cheering her on, with the line “You remember I was little? she asked. Her mother nodded. I remember.”