There are several things that struck me about your packet. First, it changes things greatly to get so much information about the people in theses poems. I want to say that I have too much information about them, but I don’t think that’s exactly true. More often, the information is presented in a way that seems to over-explain some of the poems, the poems turn into truth-machines. What do I mean by truth-machines? Well, the poems seem to pit poetics against the truth of what-happened, a function that might be synonomous with what Barthes calls the punctum (a prick or wound). For Barthes a photograph reveals the tension between what exists (and is alive in the picture) and what is dead (presently—because the people in the picture are dead). These poems seem to reach for the same kind of tension. Dealing with memory is tricky business. I’ll give an example. In the first poem you use fiction devices (“sometimes… in the beginning…over time… even then…when) to over-state the historicity of the facts as well as their ambiguous ties to memory. While this technique does explain the ambiguity of the theme, it seems a little too pat. ( I don’t think these fiction devices are right for you). I’d try to find the poem in the details, instead of using a frame (ex: It’s funny now family history works) to support the facts. Does that make sense?
There are also ways in which the truth-machine seems like the only thing supporting the poem. Like “Machuta at the Glove-Making Factory, 1950.” In this case, the information from the other poems gives this little factoid more weight in the manuscript. Actually it reminds me a little of Cat’s manuscript, following certain characters through the story. Anyways, given the structure of the manuscript, this singular detail (the V.P.R. sewn into the glove) takes on a huge significance. I read this like a Barthesian punctum, but it somehow falls short. Maybe because it (the V.P.R) tries to give me more information about the psychology of Manchuta ( I imagine she sews it into the sleeve to somehow make a statement about her work, her craftsmanship) instead of giving me a moment of poetic clarity that takes the poem away from itself. Does that make sense? That I want the poem to escape the historicity and reveal something else, outside of the characterization, outside of even the speaker’s feelings? I want the poem to lift off from the manuscript in some ways, and I’m not sure you’re doing it in his poem yet. This lift-off is attempted in the next poem “The Painting in my Childhood Room,” but again seems to fall short but for a different reason. There’s too much zooming out, too quickly. Here, we get from a fishbowl on the terrace to the “truth unknown.” Quite a leap. But unfortunately the details in the poem don’t support this kind of leap. In fact, I read the “truth unknown” line as trying to state the theme of the entire manuscript. Be careful with this. It’s tricky using poems that feed off each other. You don’t want to speak to the manuscript’s theme, but a theme in life outside of the characters. My advice, try to keep the poems more discrete, like bursts. Am I making sense? The “…Top Coat Factory” seems to be a synthesis of these two styles and gets closer to what I’m talking about. Here the tidbits of information reveal more about the characters, while the arc of the manuscript give them more weight. So we go from a very real factoid about sports to the air “smelled more broken than usual.” It’s a nice poem, maybe a little too rounded off at the end, but fits into the manuscript nicely. It provides a nice arc as well, a lot of information packed into a few lines.
For “Vilnius, 1915-1918” I don’t have much to say. It’s good, discrete in the way that it veers off from the other poems, it’s a different kind of story, uses good imagery, ect. However, please cut “storehouse of her dreams.” This rounds off the poem too much. You have that tendency in some of these poems, to state too much of the theme. But the arc of these poems do that. The poems appear like dreams anyway. They are a storehouse. No need to say it.
Again, with “Senalis’ Last Day in the First Grade” and “Manchuta’s Realization at Age 9” you seem to be trying to get at the punctum. The little detail that explodes the poem. But neither seem to exactly do it. In truth, I don’t get the rubles line in “Senalis…”. So nothing seems to happen in that poem. In “Manchuta…”, the bare fact of hardship contained in the line “six younger kids” just doesn’t do enough. I mean, you’ve constructed a terrible situation with this death, but the poem doesn’t have a slant on it, doesn’t do anymore than state that hardship in a vague way. I’d either pare this poem down to one sentence or expand it out.
I’m running out of time here (yes I waited until the last minute), I’ll email you other comments if you’d like. Just email me and give me your email: email@example.comCri