Sunday, September 04, 2011

Sharks in the Rivers by Ada Limón

Sharks in the Rivers is a poetry collection by Ada Limón which is divided into four parts. From the very first poem, Limón's water imagery hooked me. Throughout the book there are rivers, floods, rain, but mostly rivers as the title indicates. The second poem in the collection, "Flood Coming" begins:
"The pulled-apart world scatters
its bad news like a brush fire,
the ink bleeds out the day's undoing
and here we are again: alive."
This subtle description, raw and sharp, unexpected, is what defines the poems that I loved. Limón adds just the right amount of adjectives, resulting in poetry that is both lush and rich, but never overwhelming. In "Overjoyed", she writes:
"And let me be the first to admit, when I
come across some jewel of pleasure, I too want
to squeeze that thing until even its seedy heart
evaporates like ethanol, want to throw my
bird-bones into the brush-fire until,
half-blind, all I can hear is the sound
of wings in the relentlessly delighted air."
Although the rivers portion of the title is representative, honestly this collection is far more about birds than it is sharks which only make a couple appearances. Sharks in the Rivers is filled with nature and change, growth and movement, and I really loved the first half of the book. 

Unfortunately, I was less enamored with the third section of the book, which felt a bit scattered at times. It covers everything from birds to infinity to the Twilight Zone to train stations to sex to boats to god to hospitals and then back to birds again- ending up feeling more random than all-encompassing. It is mainly connected by the image of hummingbirds, but this image doesn't actually appear in all pieces of the poem and therefore doesn't quite allow for the continuity I expect in a longer poem.

The four and final portion didn't really impress me either. It includes the poem "Sharks in the Rivers II" which was significantly less lovely than the first "Sharks in the Rivers" the collection begins with. In fact, it comes across as rather flat and more like telling a straightforward story than a delicate and intricate poem. In one stanza Limón writes:
"It's not the fish that I fear, but the jaw.
Or, it's not the jaw, it's the teeth.
It's not the teeth, but the multiple rows of teeth,
the conveyor belt of teeth growing like weeds
anchored in their shark skin." 
A description that feels more like the start of a horror story than profound and emotional poetry. In another poem, "To the Busted Among Us", the speaker has a conversation with a sewer rat, arguing "Are you rabid? / Are you crazy? / Are you responsible for the plague?" and it was the sort of metaphor that seemed too absurd, pushed past the point of clarity in an attempt to show the uselessness of life but instead coming across simply as silly. 
I went into reading this book with no preconceptions having never heard of the poet before. What I found was clear and jeweled writing that instantly drew me in, at least for the first half the book. To me, Sharks in the Rivers has a split personality and it is first half of it that I loved while the second half had difficulty keeping my interest. I'm still unsure if I will read more by Limón in the future, but I'm glad I spent the time to delve into her world with Sharks in the Rivers, even if I wish I had only stayed for the first half of the visit.

Release Date: October 1st, 2010
Pages: 96
Buy the Book
Source: Netgalley

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