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In her debut collection, poet Susan Cobin conjures cock-eyed mirror worlds that reflect what our own might better be
Some poets describe the world; others imagine worlds of words into being, cock-eyed mirrors that often reveal more than mere “reality.” In her first collection (after many years of honing her craft), what poet Susan Cobin has chosen is the latter course, with delightful results, as in her title poem where she invites us to remember each of us is but “a puffy bird on a simple planet.” Asking why people avoid the rain, she observes “It’s as though / they are afraid / of what their own / bodies are filled with. // Stick a camellia / in that man’s / mouth and he’s useful / as a vase.” In “The Gardener and the Wife” she pulls back the curtain on the act of such poetic creation, opening with a titillating scene of “The rough gardener / with the thorny hands” who “wants my wife / to undo the neat row / of pearly buttons” – except, as she admits a stanza or so later, “I’ve imagined this / gardener, and I don’t / have a wife.” She invites us to do likewise: “You and I will create / a gardener and a wife. / In daylight they’ll dance / without their shoes / or pale combs. / They’ll whisper so softly / we’ll almost hear / their names.” But just as we succumb to the magic of such imagination, in the end, like a tossed stone breaking the illusory reflection of still water, she jerks us back into the real world with its Holocaust of “the souls of six million / that rise // in the curling smoke of an extinguished / candle.” What you choose, then – what we are called upon to choose – is to imagine a better world into being on this “simple planet.”
Poetry. Jewish Studies.
”Susan Cobin’s first book of poems is packed with delights. The poems’ verve and swerve of language is its own pleasure, but she also subtly rocks the heart in the poems of loss and love. I especially admire the second of the book’s five sections, the Man poems. These slender poems, with lines averaging between two and six syllables, lead the reader into assumptions and break expectations in their breathtaking line breaks. Cobin takes W.C. Williams’ concept of “no ideas but in things” to the next level. In “The Man Who Loves Clouds,” for instance, the closely observed details in the poem, like “clouds… faceless in streaking sunlight” and “an orange poppy that closes at night,” wake me up to the tiny surprises of daily life. Treat yourself to these delights. We have never needed them more.” — Marcia L. Hurlow
”Susan Cobin makes use of careful language and daring line breaks to push the familiar into new meaning. Such action often tightens the lens of observation into stark realizations. Her sensibilities seem to be alive to the breath and nuance in every moment. The narrative flow is often wild, lucid, yet always in search of the light. With precise language, Cobin shows how even the unlikely, the unexpected, and the improbable, can enliven our days. I’ve admired her work for decades—WHAT YOU CHOOSE, her first collection, is long overdue, and welcome, very welcome.” — Rodger Moody
“All good art defeats the predictable,” Eliot told us over a century ago, and Susan Cobin’s new book of poetry exemplifies the famous poet’s dictum. Her poems include sloppy green jello, power-hungry turtles, “fish jumping like sparks in the darkness,” the death of a good friend (“Death is Like an Avocado”), with unpredictable stops in between. Nature and natural elements are pervasive in this collection, which sometimes conjures the humorous surreal: “... a man may be / planted in the garden his toes / stubby radishes.” Her poems are generally short-lined, punctuation-free—the prosody of much of Robert Creeley—but the unrestrained imagination throughout is Susan Cobin’s happy contribution to American poetry.” — Jeff Worley
WHAT YOU CHOOSE is Susan Cobin's first collection of poetry. Her poems have appeared in many journals, including The Malahat Review, Kayak, Poetry East, Permafrost, Cimarron Review, Chariton Review, Spectrum, and Michigan Quarterly Review. Her poem "I Keep a Rock" was a finalist for the 2017 Anna Davidson Rosenberg Award. She received a BA in Spanish from UC Santa Barbara and an MFA in creative writing from the University of Oregon. Originally from Los Angeles, she lives in Lexington, Kentucky.