A review of Karen Paul Holmes' No Such Thing as Distance, Terrapin Books
Karen Paul Holmes
Terrapin Books, $16
My interest was instantly captured by the riveting cover of Karen Paul Holmes’ No Such Thing as Distance. It appears to be a watercolor collage viewed through a kaleidoscope. The perspective is that of traveling down a road, reaching a bright, open space after moving through trees. The image keeps drawing me to the book; I admit to spending a great deal of time holding this book and gazing at the cover. Holmes’ writing is just as captivating. She writes about family, immigrants, geography, lost love, and manages to tie all these themes together into a cohesive collection. She closes the distance between speaker and reader, living and dead, then and now, here and there. Her poetry is narrative, yet lyric, and intimate; Holmes invites her reader into her life, her world, and thus makes her topics universal. I experienced several instances where, having read a line or stanza, I was immediately transported to a similar situation in my own life. My reaction was visceral as I read the poems about the speaker attending to her mother’s final days:
"I hoped hospice spoke the truth, that it was okay not to feed her"
Holmes weaves humor into her poems. “Road Stories” opens with:
"Pity the real estate agent with a listing on Booger Hollow."
Family history is revealed in “Confessions of an Ugly Nightgown,” a tightly written persona poem. The nightgown, a “shapeless/ silk the color of overripe peaches” travels “along with 200 war brides.” Although purchased “to entice her sailor,” it now resides “in a high-up box” in the daughter’s closet.
The title comes from a line in the closing poem, “Crossing the International Dateline.” This title is an apt metaphor for the title of the book. The speaker travels to Singapore, where her daughter lives, and together they go to Australia, where her mother came from. Lengthy international travel is summed up perfectly:
I landed before I left,
can’t quite quell this thick-tongued
muddling in my brain;
The alliteration of hard c and q, which can be awkward, is spot-on in this poem as it captures the stumbling, disoriented feeling one has after flying many hours without sleep. Holmes then gives us a killer ending line to both the poem and the collection, a line which actually sums up the entire book:
I lived this day once
and then lived it again.
In 2016, Karen Paul Holmes was named a Best Emerging Poet. With this, her second collection, she has fully emerged.