"Your Pill"by Amy Ouzoonian
Review by Thaddeus Rutkowski
The title of Amy Ouzoonian's first full-length poetry collection, Your Pill (Foothills Publishing, 2004), suggests a medication, a powerful tablet that will make the reader stronger, more whole. Many of the poems in the book follow a path from brokenness to healing. This theme also anchors In the Arms of Words: Poems for Disaster Relief (Sherman Asher Publishing, 2005), an anthology edited by Ouzoonian to benefit survivors of the recent tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
"To Mother, Your Daughter Understands" contains an example of the process at the center of Your Pill. Near the beginning of the poem, we read about maple seeds in their casings:
She drops maple-seed propellers.
away from her ready to receive arms.
The line suggests that the mother -- as a child -- cannot keep something she wants to hold onto. In the poem's second section, the image becomes more threatening: "maple seed chainsaw fans/ripping through insults."
There is a connection between those razor-sharp blades, those insults, and the next section -- a discussion of religious identity that involves Judaism and a banning from the congregation.
As the poem continues, it becomes clear that the mother of the title embodies all mothers, known variously as "mama, matri, ima, madre." Yet the speaker of the poem focuses on a single figure, perhaps her own mother. Sometimes, the voice shifts from direct address to a more general report: "Seems I've written spanked pouty children into corners." Near the end of the poem, the speaker sees the mother again as a child -- of a whip-wielding father "loving to spoil and control you." Perhaps the idea of shared childhood experience allows the daughter, finally, to grant pardon:
And for this
I can forgive your trembling hands
For violating our emotions
But I can't forgive myself,
For wanting to
After the difficulty comes reconciliation -- the healing promised in the book's title.
Not all of the poems are so sober. "An Open Letter to Amy Ouzoonian," which apparently was written by Utahna Faith and addressed to the author, is lighter in tone but no less affecting. The speaker in this piece of prose poetry tells of learning that she and Ouzoonian were given the same ring by the same man. The revelation is a "discovery of lies."
Still, there is a remedy. The speaker invites the author to visit her:
We'll take pictures. Pose naked with our rings on
our fingers, our hands on one another. Get them published
in a magazine he'll be sure to look at. Let's have fun, Amy
Ouzoonian. We earned it.
Even though these two women have been treated badly, they are going to get a little revenge.
Aside from these two poems, there are dozens of verbal riffs concocted to massage the pinched areas of the reader's psyche. The settings range from New Orleans to rural New York state. Ouzoonian doesn't shy away from difficult issues. A number of the poems explore women's sexuality -- expressed solo, with a partner, or in the face of a harasser.
Another interesting aspect of the writing is the author's use of ancient mythology to illuminate contemporary topics. In the book's first poem, the poet addresses Andromeda, object of an iconic sacrifice:
Do you ever miss the old days?
Those chains do look tempting ... It's clear that there isn't such a great divide between the trials of archetypal women and the kind of behavior we see every day.
The poems in Your Pill are alternately spiritual, earthy and political. A number of them deal with the libido and its calling. All of them are provocative -- they take the reader on brief trips across geography, through relationships and, most important, into the author's perceptive psyche. Ouzoonian is a poet to be read with careful attention. Such consideration will be greatly rewarded.