FALL ILL MEDICINE, the latest collection from Carrie Seitzinger, is a slim volume of work displaying the range and seriousness of the Portland poet's talent. Most of the poems are stories in verse with an autobiographical feel. Aside from a few detours, the book keeps a tight focus on personal upheaval.
The poems capture and unpack memories, helpless moments of trauma or sadness that haunt the narrators. In "Like a Broken Window, Held with Tape," a perverse grandfather invades a dinner "in his bathrobe again," "explaining his wife had a tilted womb and in order to conceive he had to enter from the rear." A poem about an abortion is vivid, unsparing, and very good. There are also humorous asides, like in the brief gem "Fluorescent." "If someone hits on you at the supermarket, you should feel great. Those are some very powerful lights in there."
Seitzinger's style is flowing and modern, her language strongest when rooted in tactile gut reactions to the world around her. The poems never shy away from the body. Emotions are wrought in visceral detail. "Tornado in my throat," "our vertebrae form a stairway," "stomachs like cutting boards." Bodies dominate these poems, their activity far removed from the sensibilities of those who inhabit them. I also enjoyed the several pieces specifically dedicated to paintings and other works of art. A dense paragraph inspired by a Basquiat work is original and evocative. Anne Sexton and J.D. Salinger also receive nods.
The collection succeeds at provoking memories, special and forgotten, and it's at its best when it's at its bloodiest. "For years I've been acting like my wrecking ball heart/is someone else's lost marble" is an excellent line, dramatic and engaging, but I prefer when Seitzinger tackles "the red mess in my chest." Either way, it's the heart that animates these works, yearning and feeling things that most people are too decent to notice. All of that said, some of the poems stray too far into complicated metaphors, which is distracting in spite of strong writing, and a few of the poems are personal to the point of obscurity.
Like most good poetry, it's best when read aloud to yourself, but if you can catch Seitzinger on her upcoming poetry tour, she is a gifted reader. Details are available at the Small Doggies website (smalldoggiesmagazine.com), which Seitzinger edits with her partner Matty Byloos. This is the second book from their press.