Anna V.Q. Ross
Red Hen Press (2022)
96 pp. $17.95 (paperback)
In “House,” the opening poem of the award-winning book Flutter, Kick by Anna V.Q. Ross, she writes,
I come from where, I once was told,
someone attached a lock
on her bedroom door and didn’t say why
or who she feared
might open it through all the years. . . .
The home, with its “little white jug / and tea towel on the tray,” is the origin poem of a mother’s migration story from Ireland, her country of trauma. This becomes the daughter’s story to tell, recalling her own assaults and fraught relationships with the politics and violence of the United States. Ross’s sound, imagery, and concepts echo throughout the book to create a circular movement, sewn as neatly as a “tea towel.” I was enthralled by Ross’s mastery of poetics—her meter, her internal and end rhymes—to tell a story of the generational violation the speaker confronts, not only in this poem, but throughout the book.
As I was reading Flutter, Kick, I thought of Lucie Brock-Broido’s poem, “Carrowmore,” a poem set in Sligo, Ireland, and spoken by a traveler to a Neolithic site. “Wherever I went I came with me,” the speaker claims. Much like Brock-Broido, Ross embraces this perilous travel with the self, which is both physical and emotional. In her poem, “Self-Portrait as Invasive Species,” the speaker, while in the “Viking Room / of the National Archaeology Museum / in Dublin,” remembers
my mother, who one May day
flew out from here, leaving (she thought)
the crush of family—
Ross inverts the movement in these poems: The speaker, now a mother herself, travels back to Ireland from the United States, back to the land from which her mother emigrated. These lines move with almost perfect iambic feet; they feel like footsteps or heartbeats. Ross not only displays her exquisite ear for rhythm, but also rhyme with the internal sounds created by a lovely consonance (museum, May, mother) and those quiet fricatives (she, crush).
Ross uses sound to confront the epidemic of gun violence in the United States, creating an immediate and sonic emotional effect. In “Self-Portrait with Alternate Ending,” a mother walks her baby daughter in a carriage. Ross repeats the k-sound—that plosive—in the baby’s “kitty, kitty,” while relying on anaphora, the repetition of “keep” almost as a prayer throughout the poem, which, we find out, is the account of a shooting.
And the unsound as it arcs, as it tunnels through the air,
or the whirring of the stroller’s wheels as our legs unfurl—
no wall or open door, but endless pavement and a bullet
that is somewhere. Keep it somewhere . . . .
Keep the baby in her stroller
singing softer now her kitty, kitty
as we jolt home, the sky a mask behind us.
That same plosive k is echoed in “At North,” where the sound in “School” forms a word-ladder of sound, scrolling down to and rhyming with “Containment Drill” at the end:
My children play School in the living room.
They sing a song about continents.
I scroll down.
On the next screen, a boy has entered a building.
On the next screen a chain of students following each other
out of the building.
My children play Containment Drill in the bedroom.
The rules are turn out the light, shut the door. . . .
The door the mother locked in Ireland, the door that “clicks when it locks behind their backs / each morning as they go into school,” becomes a door of memory. In “What is the Poem,” a poem that tries to contain the sexual assault of the speaker as a young woman by her cousin, the poem itself becomes the violator, the trespasser, or even, an entity that insists upon existing:
a door the poem keeps forcing
open as I twist my shoulders
back into the bathing suit's straps,
lifting them up and over, up and over.
This poem is tactile, “a machine of memory,” filled with textures we can feel: a “damp polyester” bathing suit, the body he “pins” to the bed, the fingers he “pries one by one,” and “all the places the bathing suit has touched.” The poem “doesn’t know why he let go, leaving // the door flapping after him.”
The tactile and fraught migration from girlhood to motherhood in the time of the nomination and seating of Brett Kavanaugh, a credibly-accused sexual predator, by Donald J. Trump, another credibly-accused sexual predator, to the Supreme Court, shatters the heart of Ross’s poem, “Fugue.” This poem echoes—and responds to—the trauma of the speaker’s assault, as well as the implied danger the mother tried to leave behind. While driving her daughter, the speaker is listening to the Senate hearings. The poem repeats, “Can you tell us what you don’t forget?” blurring to whom the question is asked: the speaker or Dr. Christine Blasey Ford. The poem breaks its form and its place in time, creating a fugue in all its musical, physical, and psychic meanings.
The danger and the love the speaker feel for her daughter is echoed in “Geography Report,” which, again, places two events side by side: the daughter’s swim lessons and an Afghan girl killed by a US drone. Ross treats both bodies with microscopic care: the daughter “skinny-limbed ten-year-old / in a blue-green swimsuit” and the Afghan girl, whose “body bends—a piece of what cloth fluttering. . . .” The daughter’s swim movement “white flutter, kick—” is a geopolitical movement as well as a reference to the dangerous (though unequal) geography both young women must navigate.
Anna V.Q. Ross’s Flutter, Kick takes its readers on an emotional and poetic journey. These poems leave
your mother planted each spring—
small purple flags to claim the soil. . . .
This book serves as a response to our tumultuous political times, but its importance also comes from its focus on poetry, lineage, and how to navigate this country and its soil. In the end, Ross brings us home, “and we were happy, and then we slept.”
JENNIFER MARTELLI is the author of The Queen of Queens and My Tarantella, awarded an Honorable Mention from the Italian-American Studies Association, selected as a “Must Read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book, and named as a finalist for the Housatonic Book Award. She is also the author of the chapbooks All Things are Born to Change Their Shapes, winner of the Small Harbor Press open reading period, In the Year of Ferraro from Nixes Mates, and After Bird, winner of the Grey Book Press open reading period. Her work has appeared in The Academy of American Poets Poem-a-Day, POETRY, Atticus Review, the Tahoma Literary Review, Scoundrel Time, Verse Daily, Iron Horse Review (winner of the Photo Finish contest), and elsewhere. Jennifer Martelli has twice received grants from the Massachusetts Cultural Council for her poetry. She is co-poetry editor for Mom Egg Review. Find out more about her on her website www.jennmartelli.com.