Roseanne Coggeshall | Arts Feature | Indy Week
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Roseanne Coggeshall 

When she named her third collection´s final section "Rivets," Pittsboro poet Rosanne Coggeshall was thinking of the character Marlow from Heart of Darkness stranded midway through his journey, in possession of plates to stop the hole in his steamer, but without rivets with which to fasten them. The poems in this section of the book were written, says Coggeshall, "in a time in my life of confusion ... I needed something to pin things down, to hold them in place."

These poems, indeed all of the poems in the soon-to-be-published Fire or Fire (LSU Press), have about them an air of necessity, of having needed to be written. Throughout the book, Coggeshall asks questions like "what does a man do?" and "what does it mean?" as she examines ways in which we are wounded and avenues through which we may be healed. Like Marlow in his attempts to describe what he has journeyed through, she consistently pushes against boundaries of knowledge and description. When writing, she says, "I feel like I´m always at the brink and need to go farther."

As in her second book Traffic, with Ghosts, many of the poems are set in the Southeast, Pawleys Island, for example, and Route 220 near Gretna. Although the landscapes Coggeshall describes are not so exotic as Marlow´s, her speakers are no less awed by them, and no less dwarfed. Unlike those in Heart of Darkness, however, Coggeshall´s descriptions of such dwarfings are not ominous. Rather, she present encounters with the enormity of the natural world as sources of potential comfort and much-needed perspective. The words "look" and "watch" appear over and over in Coggeshall´s poems, and we are urged by her speakers to pay attention. In "Walking Pawleys Island," she writes:

If in pieces from sea´s deep bracelet

you descry design,

hold still.

Take up that shell and hold it.

In the mortar, in the mine,

confusion may go empty, you may see a sign.

The product of approximately 15 years of daily writing--Coggeshall currently works from 3 to 4 each afternoon and morning--the poems in Fire or Fire are astoundingly well-made. They are full of stunning description, of wit and wordplay, and of a magnificent use of rhyme. Like the shell at which they urge us to look, these poems have the combined ability to both comfort and amaze.

More by Jenn Habel

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