Review by Laurie Blauner
by Kate Partridge
Tupelo Press, June 2023, 75 pages, $21.95
Using striking language and intriguing, inventive images Thine by Kate Partridge explores the dichotomy and irony of everyday life and nature as she searches through various American landscapes, history, and religion for guidance and knowledge. Who we are and what will happen in the future is a notion that is always evolving in her work. She explores what it is to be an individual existing among so many people and the vastness and inspiration of nature and art. And Kate Partridge questions everything, especially decisions and actions. She can follow one direction of thought and then she can pivot, trying another. Her poems are lovely, rigorous, and humorous and full of deep thought and caring. She tries to make sense of the world as well as trying to become a better person within it.
“The tomatoes are world-famous, depending on what world you’re/ living in.”
“Theory of Engagement”
“The river has met me/ here and/ we’ve neither brought/ something to say.”
Everything is a metaphor for everything else. In “Whole Life” she writes, “The autumn light fit/ me like an over-sized coat, unsure where to fold.” A need for context and a dependence on relationships develops. And juxtaposition places one thing against another.
The author’s poetry is often a response to environmental decay, art, other poets and writers, plays, letters, historical events, and the Bible. She composed six poems on theories about audacity (a way of survival), engagement (how we are connected and disconnected), recitation (about fear and ritual – “When springtime runs/empty, we put something new in its place.”), paradise (cows waiting, Passover, and more), sand (giving in to it), and communion, where she speaks about being part of something larger but leaving it – “The pedal can make a loop with any sounds you want, but/ eventually you will have to leave that pattern, break.”
Kate Partridge is also witty, funny, and complexly intelligent. “Have you spent the evening around a big pile of dimly lit crabs./ I hear a little bit of that in you.” “Theory of Communion” “Out in the fields at night, that’s when you’d see a ghost./ Just the one leaning up against the shed like a potato sack.” “Theory of Engagement”
She patiently questions spirituality and religion. In “Theory of Recitations” she explains, “Fear is not/ the province of any particular time…” and there are baby kidnappings and a red-furred devil in the poem. In “Theory of Communion” she says, “This is a body. This is a way to get up but what.” “You have to break the body.” And the last line is “Who is the breaking for? Not you.” She states in “Ars Poetica with Goats and Agnes Martin”, “Jacob worked/ for seven years and he received a wife, although/ not the one he wanted.” You don’t always receive what you expect or desire. “How did the first people know, in the sunlight, what was descending here –“ from “Easter Observance…” And in “Fanfare…” what is ecstatic, “As if I had done a thing to deserve it – this delight…” My favorite simile is where God is a tent in “Desert Meeting” where she claims, “The tent saw everything. It always does.” In the last line of this poem the occupants light a “little” match inside the tent “which has nowhere/ to go, which can only serve to bring the tent down.”
The author tries to understand what to want and what to do. In “Poem without Weight,” “What am I supposed/ to want? To live alight/until falling straight/ from the sky? More like/ me, the cricket who,/ across the concrete, drags a leaf/ along in its legs.” She sees things differently from other people, “In Coachella, Lange saw a carrot harvest where I saw windmills…” from
“Whole Life.” And yet she wants to bridge and build what she can in “Poem Without Weight,” “The workbench where I can lay/ my tools/ out, having built what I can.” She is reflective as she explains the walls of Jericho collapsing on the seventh day and concludes, “They could not withstand the vision” from “Watch.” And in “Eve from Above” “The flowers grow as if they cannot see themselves.” So many objects mirror ourselves.
Love is only mentioned once within the book. In “Taking Off My Eyes” it appears as a flower that can’t protect itself while the baby’s hands pluck its petals off and then the baby carefully positions the petals back onto the poppy “weighting its leaves- always/ too big, too destructive in love.” Love is ecstatic, challenging, and can be difficult and destructive. It is apparent but not named in the six erasure poems [Willa to Edith] based on the one letter written from Willa Cather to Edith, her partner. Subtle and sifted from what is left unsaid, love, death, and transitions vein the author’s work. And are her poems addressed to God, or something like Him or Her, or to her beloved? Or both? In “Old Dominion” she declares, “We operate/ on these evident truths – if the diner is paper-walled with/ scripture, we are not two queers between Matthew and John.”
Thine, the title of the book, is referred to once in “Watch,” which is a poem about various spiritual, criminal, and physical threats. It reads, “Accept no gifts,/ keep thine enemies to the beach.” “Thine” is a Biblical and poetic word. According to Collins Dictionary it is a pronoun, “an old-fashioned, poetic, or religious word for ‘yours’ when you are talking to only one person.” There is an implied possession. I think of Willa Cather’s letter. I think of “To thine own self be true” from Act 1 Scene 3 in Hamlet by Shakespeare which offers advice on how to behave, on being true to your natural self. Or “I am thine, O Lord, I have heard Thy voice,” a hymn. Is she saying, I am Thine?
Thine is about witnessing evolving environments, beliefs, commitments, and possessions. Kate Partridge is interested in the history of everything. The world changes and changes us. Maybe what’s left is faith in something better. Nature informs the author’s thoughts and emotions. She asks, What is our engagement with the world? What can we learn from it? What can be done for the world?
“The world still rumbles above on its/ higher wheels. Let it be, when/ you pass through, that afterward your/ weight remains.” “Strophe & Anti-Strophe”
Weight = essence, soul, substance, inheritance. Thine inquires, What is yours and what is mine? An ownership and/or responsibility? Is what is yours (thine) also the collective ours? There is a higher purpose to Thine with its complex, detailed, and entertaining observations and meditations and its vivid, alive language.
About the reviewer: Laurie Blauner is the author of nine books of poetry, five novels, and a hybrid nonfiction collection. She received an MFA from The University of Montana. Her poetry and fiction have appeared in various publications, including The New Republic, The Nation, The Georgia Review, The Seattle Review, The New Orleans Review, Poetry, and American Poetry Review. She has received an NEA grant, King County Arts Commission, Seattle Arts Commission, Artist Trust, and Centrum grants and awards. Laurie Blauner lives in Seattle, Washington.