Bookshots: "The Ogre's Wife" by Ron Koertge
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
The Ogre's Wife
Who wrote it?
Ron Koertge, a poet in his 70s who you would swear was just an emotionally intelligent 25-year-old.
Plot in a box:
Some poetry collections have plots, but not this one. It's just 80 pages of awesome.
Invent a new title for this book:
So You Were Convinced Poetry Was Dead, Eh?
Read this if you like:
Bob Hicok; Amy Gerstler; poetry that is smart but accessible; Broetry.
Meet the book's leads:
The book's opening poem, "Little Red Riding Hood: A Memoir," details the poor girl's matronhood long after her wolfish lover's murder, and it only gets more interesting from there.
Said leads would be portrayed in a movie by:
Kate Winslet, or maybe Sigourney Weaver. Really any middle-aged actress who's just as sexy now as ever.
Setting: Would you want to live here?
I wish everyone lived here.
What was your favorite sentence?
From "Advice to a Young Poet":
And for Christ's sake no "opalesce"
and fuck the fucking candlelight,
too. Start a line with tons of dynamite
instead. Talk about an actress
with nice tits. Stop being polite!
I feel like I've been waiting most of my life for this book. I love poetry, but poetry doesn't always love you back. It's quirky and awkward and aloof and way too often not as smart as it thinks it is. Koertge isn't trying to be smart; he is smart. He doesn't flaunt it, though. Instead, he weaves various little aspects of life and love and culture and death and all the things you want a poem to be about together in easily accessible packages.
That isn't to say that there's no depth to his writing, though. Not by a long shot. There's a poem about a power outage, "Solitude," that somehow manages to make a quiet moment in the dark seem like the saddest and loneliest AND most peaceful and exhilarating situation imaginable. There are poems about Gretel after Hansel dies and Beauty during her stay with the Beast that are contemporary but somehow don't read like the clichéd Buzzfeed posts we see every day. And everything's so real. In "Tales of the Christian Martyrs," the narrator describes his friend Sebastian's pain and depression after the poor guy's wife has left him. He sits with Sebastian, and a mutual friend, Brenda, brings over a casserole and urges Sebastian to eat. The only thing that the narrator can think about, though? "But really I don't care if he ever eats. / When I was with Brenda, she never cooked." It's a poet's job to say the things that nobody else likes to admit, and that's about as unadmittable as it gets.
There are a handful of other poets doing this kind of thing, trying to marry the idea of Poetry with the actual world as it exists today, who don't bother with the overly fanciful phrasing but still say everything so perfectly. This is the best I've seen it done, though. I honestly thought that Koertge was in his late 20s/early 30s, and was completely stunned when I found out he was over 70. Apparently he writes YA, too, which I guess makes sense, although there's nothing juvenile about any of these poems. If the book has any faults, its that not all of the poems stick to the kind of fractured fairy tale style that the title and first poem imply. But honestly, who cares? Every page is beautiful, so it's not like I would suggest any of the poems be swapped out. This is the book that's going to get you back into poetry, folks.
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