Alison Luterman’s collection of poems “Desire Zoo” connect associatively and sequentially at times and share many of her passions. Alison Luterman also writes prose but that hasn’t prevented her from writing narrative poems; many in this collection tend to be narrative. The stories tend to be daily occurrences where some event, image, or person caught her attention and wrapped it around a question she had.
Three prose poem pieces, “Love Shack”, “Dust”, and “What About God” are structured like prose but are tighter in presentation. They focus on the universal or ideal behind the day to day.
In “Love Shack”, the poet conveys her connection with her lover as the connection from lover to mother to child with the implication that is passes on through the generations.
In “Dust”, she is told a story by a student in her class and it impacts her so much that she can’t help but see death even in life around us. My summary is rather simplistic compared to the poem, but the metaphor of dust to dust carries through the piece.
In “What About God”, a rabbi comes to visit and they share their perceptions of God and find they all fit in a manner or not. These poems don’t use line breaks or stanza breaks or end rhyme to provide the poetic sense to the poem. Instead, she uses the ideal sense of moments or words to raise the poem into greater meanings that extend beyond her personal experience.
Other poems are also narrative, but use poetic devices such as form or line breaks or italicized words to emphasize or order.
In these poems, there is usually an immediate moment, such as noticing herself in relation to other persons, like in the poem “Arrow” where she “refuses to believe Carla’s dying” and who she places in a given moment, “the punching of a button on her wheelchair”, to deal with the eventual death of a loved one. The title and the use of the arrow are consistent with the mythic tale of Eros shooting love into someone. The conflict is stated in terms of circumstance, how will she deal with the loss and the resolution comes about out of love.
In looking at the collection, you see instances of death of a loved one showing up (death is dealt with several poems), as is the love of a child through a series of poems at the zoo, for example, as well as the love she shares with her husband(s) in varying forms. These provide additional cohesiveness to the collection.
In the case of non-narrative poems, that moment of conflict-resolution is missing and is replaced by a element of emotional growth such as occurs in the case of “Cashmere” where the poet relates to the material and "Amber” where she connects to the wearing of her mother’s earrings. What is conveyed is more a changing depth of emotion without an attempt to resolve it; the appreciation is what is mattered or the feeling at the moment. Another non-narrative poem is “Citizen’s of a Broken City” and what she is conveying is the changing of detail, in this case different people and how they all feel connected even in their disconnect.
What ties the pieces to each other is a fairly honest, uniform voice that shares her emotion as but doesn’t attempt to badger, sell, compete etc. that would imply a different tone of voice. Details are shared about body, love, people and their reactions with enough sensitivity that the reader believes that she says it occurred; there’s no sense that she is adding drama for the sake of making the story better.
In reading her poems, our task in my poetry class as part of my multi-genre option in the Creative Nonfiction program at Ashland University was to discuss narrative poems. I wasn't sure what the definition of narrative poem was but used what I knew from my coursework in fiction. On Wikipedia, which offers excellent examples of more classic narrative poems, one element is plot. The University of North Carolina at Pembroke runs the All American: Glossary of Literary Terms also has an entry for narrative poetry, but they use the more modern or post-modern definition of a story must have occurred and it explains the more common forms of narrative poetry such as ballad.
To learn more about narrative poetry, try the lesson and examples at the Education-Portal.