Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Chapbook Spotlight: small fruit songs

Cati Porter’s small fruit songs is published by Pudding House Publications in Columbus, Ohio, a small press that puts out a substantial number of chapbooks each year, including their Greatest Hits series. The collection is standard chapbook size, with card stock cover, saddle-stitched. The cover has an attractive and subject-appropriate image of “Self-Portrait as Radiant Host,” a still life of fruit by artist Julie Heffernan. The pale gray cover, if held at the right angle, sparkles with glitter. Inside, the poems are nicely surrounded by black end pages.

Although the collection is subtitled “prose poems,” I was not aware of the poems as such while reading. The usual box format is not adhered to in all the poems. Many are broken into stanzas and a number of lines do not reach the right margin. What I noticed was the musicality, the lyricism of the poems. And the unity of the collection. Both qualities I look for in a chapbook. All of the seventeen poems are related to fruit. Yet Porter makes sure that there’s never any danger of the topic growing stale.

The poems are lush and juicy and full of longing and sweetness. We find different kinds of fruit—apples, oranges, plums. We find a variety of colors—red, purple, green, white. And we find a variety of fruit-related things—bees, blossoms, honey, gardens, orchards. Throughout the chapbook there is a feeling of abundance.

Porter spices up the collection with alluring titles. Several enumerate categories of fruit: “Civil Fruit,” “Fallen Fruit,” “False Fruit,” “Multiple Fruit,” and “Small Fruit.” Others tantalize the reader with their strange fruitiness: “Fructify,” “Fructus Industriales,” “Fruiteress,” “Frutage,” and “Infructescence.” A number of the titles are followed by intriguing epigraphs that provide definitions of fruit-related words or etymologies of them.

These are poems that show the poet’s lively imagination and skills of invention. There is a surreal aspect to a number of the poems. In “Dreaming the Fruited Damson Tree” we find a woman who falls in love with a fruit tree, marries it, and then eats the offspring as they fall from the branches. In “Fructify” we find a woman’s stomach full of stinging bees, a metaphor for grief. In “Hive” and again in “Infructescence” we find a girl who sprouts flowers from her body.

Here’s a sample poem.


1. A picture of fruit; decoration by
representation of fruit.
2. A confection of fruit. [Obs.} nares.

She allows him to pick her when she is sweetest
and she lays herself down in a tub of sugared
water. It is only at this hour that he can admire
her, when the light is a certain shade of ripe.

She has been taken from the tree out back. There
are so many he can hardly consume them all.

He has laid her out across the canvas of the

He photographs her just this way, the light so—
bees all around.

The only thing I found missing in this delightful collection is page numbers in the Table of Contents. Pages in the collection are numbered, but for some reason the publisher did not include the page numbers after the titles on the Table of Contents page. The publisher might also consider making her website more ordering friendly. There is a link for an ordering form, but it is tucked among numerous other links and difficult to locate as is specific ordering information. However, readers can also order the chapbook directly from Cati Porter’s website.

Enjoy Cati Porter's interview with Gayle Brandeis.

Listen to Cati’s recording of “Fructify”.

Listen to more audios of poems from small fruit songs.

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