The Swing Girl: Poems by Katherine Soniat
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“The Swing Girl is poised between serenity and sorrow. Katherine Soniat’s themes are large, and her detail is exquisite. Her new book comes alive with wild, disciplined musicality. The arc has the intimacy and structure of a fugue; meaning modulates in the reader’s mind, rather than hardening on the page. Soniat’s lines are visceral: ‘I began to feel as clear as water / but with that heaviness / too. // Wind on the mirror.’ The Swing Girl doesn’t rely on lyricism; it is a poetry of wide-ranging thought, deep feeling, and scrupulously assumed human responsibility which imagines its way beyond the scale of the individual—‘beauty on its way to becoming mystery.’ Soniat’s collection is passionate, generous, self-questioning, and masterful.”
“Many poets have written of the Mediterranean, but Katherine Soniat gives us poetry that so vividly calls up contemporary and ancient Greece, the hard light, the sea, the god-haunted groves and the graves, we feel as if we are there ourselves. Music propels this collection from section to section, poem to poem, music so beautiful that one wants only for it to keep playing. Poems in The Swing Girl possess an unsettling elusiveness though the language is stunningly exact, the focus clear and precise. The reader becomes immersed in foreshortened moments, things moving in and out of the periphery, odd alignments. We see the world anew—as Sir Thomas Browne puts it in this collection’s epigraph, it is the human who must live ‘in divided and distinguished worlds.’”
“The poems in Katherine Soniat’s new collection, The Swing Girl, weave emotion’s ‘spray going farther than thought’ with the ‘bedrock things’ of the trod-upon world. These poems eddy and pool in unpredictable and often surprising ways, much as the mind moves in its twilight state between waking and sleep. The fluidity of their cadence and the luminosity of their imagery carry the reader to the wellspring of poetry itself, that deep delight of which Robert Penn Warren spoke, whose source is, in Soniat’s words, ‘beauty on its way to being mystery.’”
—Kathryn Stripling Byer
In the title poem of The Swing Girl, a Greek burial relic with an image of a small child on her swing suggests the ability to move between present culture and the ghosts of history, between modern metaphor and the rhetoric of myth. Katherine Soniat celebrates this fluidity and the detached yet vulnerable perception that comes with it: “The territory that girl could cover, her eyes peering birdlike / across the grove. The air, a vector.”
Soniat’s new collection contemplates the present through the fragmented lens of history. She swings the reader out across time, to ancient Greece and China, and into the chaos of contemporary war in Serbia and Iraq. The ever-changing point of view disorients, so that ultimately even daylight seems uncertain: “. . . the sun, a far smear above, granular and moony.” Loss provides the substance of history and myth, sounding the dark, minor key of elegy for lives and geographies cracking under pressure.
In Soniat’s poems the precarious puzzle of this world shatters, only to begin again in startling new ways: “the story of the mountain always points somewhere else/ elusive as the tawny lion disappearing behind the next / high crag.”
Katherine Soniat is the author of four poetry books, including A Shared Life, winner of the Iowa Poetry Prize. She teaches in the Great Smokies Writing Program of the University of North Carolina at Asheville.