Review: ‘Flood Letters’, a chapbook by Karin Gottshall

Flood LettersFlood Letters by Karin Gottshall

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This stark little chapbook is going to haunt me a long while. So many of the aesthetic tics of the art object it comprises feel very intimately close to my own, and thus of course to me. This book felt something like deja vu, like reading a book I had written then completely forgotten was mine. Like someone snuck into my internal imagination-scape and camped out for a while, then wrote this chap and left it mysteriously on my doorstep for me to find after a long night without sleep. It was very surreal to experience the book in this way, every poem drifting through water and dream material.

I love all the ways people treat chapbooks differently; in this case Gottshall as apparently taken the perspective of the chapbook as a very self-contained gesture and it effected me in a beautifully unsettling manner. I felt trapped in the small, textured book, just as the speaker throughout what might be called the book’s narrative is compelled in very dark and nuanced ways by the mysterious post-apocalyptic floodwaters that have seemingly taken the world and now rather quickly work quietly upward to take the house and, of course, the speaker.

The entire effort is refreshingly imaginative and brutally rich in its suffused melancholy and surrender to death. The abstract epistolary the book constructs is such a brilliant touch and must be read in the collective whole to be truly appreciated, and speaks (often explicitly) to the nature of loneliness as much as connectedness, the latter perhaps by its absence as much as the acute punctures that occur with other presences when they exist:

“Dear Lucidity, no one else
to say they saw it or didn’t, but this
gray morning a starved

white horse came wading up
the empty street. Two if you count

his reflection.”

 

And a bit later, toward the end of the book:

 

“I saw a far, clear lantern light that moved
on the water and threw a long reflection.
The first I’d seen in days. If grief
were merely a matter of calling
across great distances; salvation
merely a matter of being heard.”

 

Like the photographs in the speaker’s basement early on that come flooding to the surface in filmy blooms, one can’t help but imagine these poems as literal epistles floating out from a place of distilled, focused, curated loneliness–both in the reality of the speaker but in the reality of Gottshall, as this spare metaphor may be the best I can think of for the art process itself.

This is a small but charged book that is more than worth your money and attention. Karin Gottshall has the current and the wind.

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