Book Review: “Haori” and “Check and Balance” by Luisa Igloria

To Contemplate the World in all its Many Forms:

a review of Luisa Igloria’s Haori and Check & Balance

By Abby Brunt

“What I glean of hunger is/its wild sound, wind that ratchets/ through the hollows”, Luisa Igloria writes in her new chapbook Haori.  Indeed, hunger fills the poems in this chapbook, heady with longing and desire, offering reminders that all life is fleeting.  Questions surface and nudge, in Igloria’s probing quiet voice that asks and wants all the while expecting no answer, knowing there isn’t one to be found, a fact that in Haori is both melancholic and comforting.  “Sometimes all I want is/for the cistern to take my coin,/for the fountain to answer”.  Yet even as Igloria longs for certainty, for a coin that can be given in exchange for knowledge, she also knows such desires have a price and cautions, “Don’t linger/in the bath that certain evenings/ draw you into: all melancholy, all/purple shade and stupefying incense” because it is the fleetingness of life that also gives it its spontaneity and pleasure. “Come eat and stain your mouth” for life is “to want everything,/deplore the wanting, then plunge/a whole hand into the bowl anyway.”

The title Haori is a Japanese word for a kimono like-jacket and the chapbook’s title poem gives perspective on this choice as “the body at its base swells/ inside its sleeve a little more each day.”  Despite its small container, Haori feels much broader in scope as it contemplates the larger metaphysical spaces that defy human understanding through focus on the smaller physical elements of closer observation — a dragonfly with its “iridescent pennants” and the “tiny signatures of insects affixed/to the door jamb”.  Small details weave themselves together to form the fabric of this present world, while the “Arguments with Destiny” – the title of the main body section of Haori, which makes up the majority of the book – remain mysteries to encounter and uncover.  As “the stars/being so far away, no longer/see the need to pass judgment” neither do Igloria’s poems, which instead “live in the eloquent gaps of contradiction/which spurn and enchant at every turn.”

In addition to Haori, Igloria has also published another smaller chapbook Check & Balance, which differs entirely both in scope and toneWhile Haori is contemplative, full of longing and hunger that circles back and around on itself, Check & Balance is more direct and linear, grounded as it is in the more immediate and frankly abysmal political reality.  There are no “gaps of contradiction” here, but that’s because Check & Balance serves a more specific and immediate purpose of protest and there’s no time for open-ended contemplation “when a man shouts Get out/of my country and open fires on two brown/ men sharing beers”.  The one exception to this more straightforward tone is the poem “Rondo: Dying World”, which is more contemplative like Haori and while the poem in and of itself deftly weaves image and language together to create a beautiful flow on the page, its more meandering pace makes it feel a little out of place in the collection as a whole.

Yet, despite the ugliness of the current political situation, Check & Balance ends on a redemptive note.  The title poem closes this collection with a picture of humanity’s better urges as people come together to help a man injured in an accident — “the movement of hands/and bodies wanting to save”.  For everything that needs to be checked, there’s also balance, for every evil, a good deed, too.

Igloria’s new chapbooks, though very different in what they seek to cover and convey, both offer necessary elements.  We need reminders, especially now, to step back, contemplate, listen and ask the unanswerable, while also stepping forward to look at the ugliness full on and demand that kindness and justice prevail. In their very separate ways, both Haori and Check & Balance push boundaries and ask for a broader perspective and an inclusive world, one that we can all question and in which we can all live.

Haori was published by Tea & Tattered Pages c. 2017

Check & Balance was published by Locofo Chaps (an imprint of Moria Books) c. 2017

Luisa A. Igloria has published thirteen books of poetry, including Ode to the Heart Smaller than a Pencil Eraser (2015) which won the 2014 May Swenson Prize and Juan Luna’s Revolver (2009) which won the Ernest Sandeen Prize.  Most recently, she won the 2015 Resurgence Prize, which was the world’s first major award for ecopoetry.  Prior to Haori and Check & Balance, her most recent chapbook was Bright as Mirrors Left in the Grass (Kudzu House Press echapbook selection for Spring 2015).  She is on the faculty of the MFA Creative Writing Program at Old Dominion University, which she also directed from 2009-2015.