Review by Elsie Ohem
When reading Houses, by CB Follett, one can try to imagine what must have inspired her to write a book of poetry based on a unique take on houses. Each poem imagines many homes built on nature, man-made objects, or man-made intellect. Yet, this 33-page chapbook of poetry redefines the meaning of a home by juxtaposing what a home should represent with what a home can represent. Eventually, Houses becomes a bigger part of meaning; redefining and redrawing the very foundation that holds onto our notion of what a home is.
To further the inquiry, imagine a house and the materials of nature that build it. Now, imagine a house made of watches; the watches, handed down from generation to generation, are always keeping time of the individuals and the memories that are left in its space. This home is home, for a time, to someone; and for another time, it is home to someone else. The fact that Follett can craft a man-made object as a foundation that describes how a home leaves one family to the next, eloquently ascribes a visual texture for articulating the transpersonal relationship of a home. This is quite evident in her poem “Houses Made of Watches,” for example:
As walls of her house they both
stared and spoke. The multitudinous
faces with moving hands and the
cacophony of tocks, so many
that it formed into a background
of rhythms. Only one was set
to the correct time. The others
went their way on their own time
with their own announcements.
With a lens of agency, one can view each of the 20 poems living within Houses as being part of a narrative of strength. The strength, in this case, is within the story itself in that each poem becomes a witness to differing worldviews. This is most apparent as the reader learns of the different styles of houses being built, the different materials used to build the house, and the different ways of living within each house. Specifically, the juxtaposition of houses with nature and history is best illustrated in “House Built of Bear Claws”:
As best she could she wrote them down
on black paper in silver ink.
The claws were long and longer,
some young and sharp, some worn
with age. Their tales went back
to the early caves where only a candle
flickered over the sacrifice of great
beasts that carried myths on their
shoulders, myths that dripped from
their claws into her ears.
In this case, the strength of this poem is found within the feminized agency of writing and witnessing history. A common place found within these poems, as a whole, is the feminized subject. A feminized subject characterizes each poem’s narrative by often detailing a journey of experience and of memory. A question of who “she” represents is never truly understood, being that “she” is nobody and everybody. Her actions designate her as either the houses, the individuals who live in it, or both. More so, her agency is what ascribes each house a multitude of meanings, visuals, and textures. Her vision connects each house into one whole, steadily holding together a facet of wonder while, at the same time, breathing life into an object of mundanity, for example, in “A House Built of Straw”:
From the nearest farmer
she selected the firmest
and most rectangular
of hay bales. She built
a house of straw
three bales thick with openings
for views, and rushes
for roof and floor. And
inside the house she waited.
Her actions speak more than the words she uses to describe them in that the act of doing resonates beyond the house; it showcases a belief that, perhaps, the foundation of what a house means is, and has always been, subjective. Its subjectivity, therefore, is what leads her to experience life without a house, as seen in the interlude:
She felt melted herself
Went to Nagawal
where people sleep on the beach
and there are no houses.
After this experience, she returns and builds 5 more houses. She learns at the end that what’s left behind is a message that takes the form of what something once was, clearly defined in “Houses Built of Snakes”:
One night, when the moon
slept in the shadow of the sun
the snakes slithered free
of their chains and returned
to holes in the ground
and in the dawnlight
when she awoke, her house
was built of the dry, whispery
and delicately patterned
husks of snakeskin, which
shown in the light like parchment
each recording its message
CB Follett has six collections of poems and several chapbooks. Her book At the Turning of the Light won the 2001 National Poetry Book Award from Salmon Run Press. And Freddie Was My Darling (Many Voices Press) is her most recent book, with her next book One Bird Falling forthcoming in 2011 from Time Being Books. She is the current Poet Laureate of Main County, CA.