Whenever we think of family stories, the only forms we can think of are prose, memoir or short stories. That sounds rational and logical. Luanne Castle proves how wrong that typical and schematic thinking is. Why couldn’t you take the genealogical research and put it into the world of poetry?
M y adventure (yes, I would say that was an adventure) with Luanne Castle’s Kin Types was from the very beginning a surprise after surprise. When I sat on the couch with this collection, I was expecting a typical book of poetry, and then I opened the volume and started reading. At first, I was both overwhelmed and astonished by all the forms I came
across and which I certainly hadn’t expected to find in Kin Types. This very short volume of 30 pages of words is neither prose, historical non-fiction short stories, memoirs, nor poetry. Kin Types is neither of those literary genres as long as you add “typical” before every one of them. It consists of all of them in a surprisingly well-working manner.
Castle opens her collection with Advice from My Forebears which is a list of advice written as a poem. Every piece of Castle’s work is a different story written in divers and distinct style and form to the others. What binds them is the stories of her ancestors and their kin. The stories are full of sorrow, tragedies and painful, sometimes humiliating, moments in their lives like in Someone Else’s Story.
Twice when they thought she was out at the barn
she’d heard them talking about her as if she
were a cow hobbled for the sake of her calf.
That’s when her story sounded to her like that
of someone else, a poor orphan in a book
she’d read in another life. Yet she was no orphan,
her mother living in the city, caring for
her grandson who still wore white dresses and ringlets.
Her story sounded harsh and chronological,
What Castle tells the reader is not only the story of her ancestors, but she very clearly beams with a small spot of light into the future. Those “ghost stories” are not thoroughly closed chapters of a family. In The Nurturing of Nature and its Accumulations She says:
Anything that happened to my grandmother before she got pregnant imprinted the genes she shared with my father and then with me.
And then in What Lies Inside:
What lies outside my mind is nothing. Mother’s bones cleaner
than steak bones, buildings diminish to the horizon.
Inside my mind
a junkyard, castoffs from outside others,
flickering and igniting when struck on its inside walls.
It is a very mature view of the past, of our ancestors, of the role they played – or even are playing in our lives – yet we had never met them.
Kin Types was a surprising, bewildering, and revolutionary in a way, experience for me. For both the diverse forms and style and the idea itself to tell the stories of one’s ancestors in the – more or less – form poetry. Yes, more or less, for the form is a mixture of poetry and prose and if I had to classify it as one genre I couldn’t quite decide. Emily Dickinson in her poem no. 657 (I dwell in Possibility-) says:
I dwell in Possibility –
A fairer House than Prose –
More numerous of Windows –
Superior – for Doors –
Of Chambers as the Cedars –
Impregnable of Eye –
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky
Of Visitors – the fairest –
For occupation – This –
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise –
Dickinson explicitly defined what she thought was the most superior genre, leaving no room for doubts or negotiations. She did not foresee this “Possibility” where one can combine in an interesting manner both poetry and prose. In a way, I believe I wasn’t prepared for it either. Therefore, as much as I was surprised at the beginning of Kin Types with form and style as much I am undecided at the end of it. I’m going to “dwell in this Possibility” for a little bit more. Luanne Castle is the only author – for the long time – who left me so much lost in my toughts and ambivalent. Thus, I think it is worth of taking this adventure with her.