Porch Language, Selected Poems 1975-1988, by Robin Rule, Pygmy Forest Press, Albion, CA (1989) 24 pp.
Review by Carolyn Page, in Potato Eyes. (Troy, ME: Nightshade Press), No. 2, Fall/Winter 1989-1990, p. 80
Here’s a piece of Appalachia from the Coast Range of Norther California. A perfect companion to Katharyn Aal’s From Redwing, these twelve poems and prologue create a sepia photo album of Willits, California, a small town not so very different from mythical Redwing. And therein lies the magic, for it is the dark and compelling side of town that we visit in Porch Language. We see the mythic Our Town quality of Willits through Rule’s unsentimental eyes: “Willits in summer / old stems rattling / all twisted up with knotty tangled bits / of colored string and ribbon..”
In her prologue, “Steam Train Blues,” Rule evokes the muses through “the rhythmic pulse of the tracks / chanting the family liturgy / Jeanette Aldrich / begat Robin Rule / who begat Ari rule / who listems to his great grandmother tell stories / rocking on the front porch… / These are the people / WHY / I take the train to Sanctuary Station…”
These are people we become obsessed with, although we soon realize that the journey will be painful. Rule’s powerful voice calls up from the past passion and violence as she rattles skeletons in “They Waited Too Long To Tell Me”, a performance poem for two voices, Grandmother and Granddaughter, each probing the same dark secret. The Grandmother speaks: “…I gotta listen to this strange woman / shake her deathrattle and beg me / to stay FOREVER when I know / she’s gonna die tomorrow…”
Miscarriage, murder, rape, and unrequited love are all examined under a :lunar eclipse” light that draws us in, as with “Sacrifice as the Code of the Road.” / No one knows who he was / but when Nana sat rocking at String Creek / telling Marigold and me about love / I knew she wasn’t talking about Leo, my grandfather…”
Rule is not at her best when she preaches as in “A Future for the Children”, but most of her work astounds, and what Rule may lack in musical quality she makes up for in haunting pathos reminiscent of the fiction of the Canadian novelist Sandra Birdsell. In her final piece “The End Result”, she reminds us of what the collection is all about: “LOOK Some of us risk every dream to know the answer…” Rule risks all and succeeds.