A Constellation of Kisses

A Constellation of Kisses, Edited by Diane Lockward, Terrapin Books, $18.99.

In the forward to A Constellation of Kisses, a collection of poems selected and edited by Diane Lockward, Lee Upton states, ”A kiss is never just a kiss…”, and yet it is. A kiss is given its weight by its recipient, by its intention, measured in time and place. Poetry itself. And so a collection attempting to capture those varied experiences is as elusive as memory and as appropriate (or inappropriate) as the soul can withstand or bare.

The breath and scope of this compilation left me struggling with which poems to pick as representations and how much of each to share with the reader.

Debra Bruce’s, “Just a Kiss Goodbye at the Airport”, a girl, home for the holidays, observes her college roommate saying goodbye to her father, a man who has made the other girl his new-found intimate. The author has tagged the betrayal, a shared intimacy between two friends and the great divide created by the sexual intimacy shared by her friend with her father. “ Neither girl can look at the other’s face”. In the light of current scandals, I was left wondering how many encounters like the one chronicled here have remained hidden in plain sight, silent explosions causing lifelong devastation.

In “Prison Literature Class” by Jennifer Burd captures the freedom and creativity found by (each) inmate(s) as “… he walks inside these walls inside himself.” Here, “… a kiss between an inmate and his visitor is, “so long and real” that by its conclusion,”… the prisoner was a free man.” My soul sang in celebration with each discovery of possible liberation. 

“Down Time” by Peer Murphy, introduces a man who realizes the fragility of life as age advances. “I kiss her lips. I catch my breath. I sit down to rest. I sip my tea. I take my meds.” Myself, not a young man but not yet old, I felt an acceptance and awareness of life not to be diminished or taken lightly.

In “Walk in a Winter Storm”, Sharon Tracey studies winter’s snow as kisses. “Who has a better way of showing something new…”,”Who kisses and asks for nothing in return?” I thought of those who have gone into the woods to escape humanity only to emerge fresh with a love so pure and free that it finds them renewed.   

The collection is so rich and varied, embracing love at all stages of life, inclusive of all genders and groups of peoples, that this small sampling cannot do it justice.

A constellation is defined as a group of stars or a configuration of ideas, feelings, etc., that are related in some way. Looking up into the skyscape that has been charted and mapped out by Diane Lockward, the sky is vast and illuminating. So many voices with so much to say, I found myself editing my words to make room for theirs.

In “A Girl I Kissed When I Was Sixteen” by Robert Wrigley the speaker says it all. “ It was enough, kissing, her licking my lips just so.”

I concur.  

Allan Marks has written short stories and poetry and currently lives in an artist’s residence in the heart of Manhattan. He is a retired teacher who, before teaching, spent twenty years as a performing artist. His last “gig” was as the lead vocalist for a nationally renowned big band singing 20s, 30s, and 40s , the music of the American Songbook. He is honored to have been asked to review this poetry collection.

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