…a closer look at File Cabinet Heart

Behind the Titles: A Closer Look

at File Cabinet Heart, an poetry collection by Shannon J. Curtin

Winner, 2014 ~ The ELJ Publications Mini-Collection Competition

Leah Sewell, Judge

Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Lee Busby

 

April:

I find this collection really interesting because it creates something beautiful with words out of tragedy. It hurts my heart so many women can identify with this collection. It takes a beautiful person on the inside to write something like this collection, and thus we come back to the interesting part. It is equal parts interesting and heart wrenching women have this ability; the ability to turn something so heavy into something that takes flight. What are your thoughts on the conversation of domestic violence?

Lee:

It’s a curious subject, as you mentioned, and one that’s hard to speak about in general, let alone in art. But, I do find art can sometimes give a beautiful and immediate voice to such precarious situations that we, all too often, find ourselves in. In this collection, I found some of the standout moments to be the little peculiar moments that come out of these dark situations. Take for example the poem “Portrait of a Young Bride,” the speaker, while trying to picture the bruise that she expects to surface, not only muses on how much makeup she has left, but also that the light bill is over due. What a powerful and telling statement hidden in such a subtle phrase about the nature of the relationship and just how commonplace this abuse has become.

April:

“Thirsty Thursday” was one of my particular favorites. I love the descriptive words and the way the words are used to show their, or rather his, argument (i.e. the italics of the one word in the first stanza). I love that they are vague, and the narrator only calls them “names.” This, to me, says she doesn’t accept the words he chooses to describe her with and rather than remember them she focuses on the stain the Vodka makes on the floor, but only when she stands up for herself and leaves him. This poem shows me the narrator’s strength, and it’s a marvelous thing to behold.

Lee:

It’s another very telling poem, and I like the way the narrator frames the argument with all these specific household details (walls, windows, drains, floors, etc.), details that in a healthy relationship would be representative the house that the two lovers shared, but here seem to become eerily distant and isolating in the way they are presented. I also found it fitting this poem preceded “I’m No Heroine,” which is less concerned with the concrete details of what transpired and instead cuts right to the heart of what matters most in the end. (I won’t spoil it here.)

April:

What do you think “Sharp” aims to accomplish? It’s only two lines describing the narrator getting whistled at. In fact, what are your overall thoughts on the amount of sensuality in this collection? Is it a means to express the narrator’s feminine freedom outside her oppressed relationship or something else? Trauma? Personally, I’d argue for the first, but I could see both sides. I’d like to think the narrator turned into a glorious creature after her abuse, but maybe she didn’t. Maybe she began to learn how to survive herself and her new life.

Lee:

I found “Sharp” a perfect example of this author’s spot on eye for picking the right detail at the right time. For such a short poem, I spent a lot of time contemplating the image. Maybe contemplating isn’t the right word. I think I was just simply enjoying the image. Once again, and this time with the sensuality you mentioned coming heavily into play, we get a brief image, a brief passing moment, that makes me catch my breath each time I read it. What I find fascinating is that we aren’t quite told what the narrator thinks or feels about this moment: it just is. Perhaps there’s a clue in the title, but then again, a lot can be read into the title that may or may not be there. I think this poem comes at an important point in the collection where we start seeing a turn in the narrator, a survivor, like you said, being honest and dealing with her surroundings and the people that surround her in a voice that makes us feel a part of the story unfolding in front of us.

April:

I also absolutely loved “To The Boy I Could Not Make Myself Love.” Does it get better than this title and then a poem about how she doesn’t like tomatoes even though she loves everything about them? Absolutely not! I know, that sounds a bit weird. But this is really poetry at it’s finest. It’s saying everything you need to know with all of the feelings of frustration and loss without being overly dramatic or preachy. It’s beautifully simple. And then as an added treat the poem that follows is the desperate response of the tomato. Trust me, this is going to be a favorite set amongst readers because it works marvelously together. How do you feel about tomatoes and love? Did you like the fact the narrator hid behind a tomato to express herself or did you want a more up front conversation?

Lee:

Who doesn’t want to hide behind the love of a tomato from time to time? But seriously, like you said, I think the tomato works to great effect in this poem: it’s funny, it’s sad, it’s messy, it’s frank, it’s hungry, it’s appreciative, and ultimately, it’s a release of frustration. It’s a poem that highlights the colloquial in the author’s voice and comes across quite simple on the surface, yet, like the tomato, is quite seedy inside. And just to praise the sequencing of poems in this collection, the next poem, “A Tomato’s Response” gives the reader exactly what they want after finishing the previous poem.

April:

I think that the last poem is the perfect ending. I know I’m a little gushy over this collection, but I really liked it. It’s a poem about the things that love is and isn’t, but surprisingly it isn’t cliché. It’s a feat. The lines, “Love is fighting with words sometimes/…Love is eating your words sometimes” she goes onto say, “Love is learning the language/ of the spaces in someone else’s sentences.” Having only been married for six years, I know I’m not an expert but this rings true to me. Love is a sticky mess and if you can do it right, love someone who loves you back, it works even with the bumps. What are your thoughts? Does this poem have enough of a balance without being overly sentimental for you?

Lee:

The last poem really puts a nice end cap on the collection and completes, at least for me, the internal narrative that has been running since the first poem in this book. I do think this poem hits a lot of sentimental moments, but I also think that’s the point of this poem: real life is sometimes sentimental. And what has this collection of poems given us if not the truth throughout (the bad and the good), so it is fitting to come to a pleasant conclusion in an overall arc that has been an emotional rollercoaster of personal relationships, doubt, frustration, humor, and, yes, even affirmation that love is “simply trusting the brakes.” I’d definitely recommend this collection.

April:

Agreed.

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