Staff Book Reviewer Jessica Maybury is a recent graduate of the MA in Writing programme from NUI, Galway, Ireland. Her work has appeared in Nth Word, Word Riot and Prick of the Spindle, among other places. Her Web site is jmaybury.blogspot.com.
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Noel Sloboda’s poetry collection, Stages, is a beautifully bound chapbook from sunnyoutside press. Sloboda is a dramaturg for the Harrisburg Shakespeare Festival, and teaches at Penn State York; such a background in Shakespeare and education informs the poems, giving them a rigid spine of fact and truth.
The chapbook smells of olden times, and the poems within seem to echo back to a quieter, grander era.
Sloboda’s poems all reference Shakespeare’s plays, using cues from the texts as pathways into the poet’s personal themes and issues such as addiction and lust. A throwaway line from Macbeth transforms itself into a near accident while shaving (hungover). A performance of A Comedy of Errors becomes a study of a past relationship. Transformations multiply in such a short sequence of poems, enthralling the reader with an acrobatic grace that is difficult to resist.
The collection brings the form and intention of poetry into question: where is the line between poetry and performance? It is not so easily defined here, as poetry in/as/of performance moves both on and off stage. There is a blurred line here between the actor and the audience, between the written and the spoken word.
Being the audience for such a collection is a slightly unnerving and meticulously layered experience, almost like a projectionist watching the film he is simultaneously projecting. There is also another angle to consider: the life of the poet bound up with the words of Shakespeare, and the relationship through words that exists between these two writers. Another example of such a relationship is that of Sylvia Plath and Virginia Woolf—Plath found empathy and kinship in the words of Woolf, just as Sloboda does here with Shakespeare.
Unfortunately, however, this collection doesn’t seem to really begin until the fourth poem (“Strut and Fret”); there is little sense of conviction until then. This false start renders the collection disjointed, but everything runs smoothly after that.
Another problem I have is that it’s slightly too contrived and stiff; the poems never seem to flow freely or find their feet on their own.
These qualms aside, I often found myself surprised by this, and enjoyed its gentle playfulness.
Official sunnyoutside press Web Site