reviewed by Hannah Rousselot
Fierce Aria, written by Maxima Kahn and published by Finishing Line Press, lives up to its ambitious title. The book is a song dedicated to poetry and to life itself; at times slow and others fast, Kahn’s words grasp the reader from the start and do not let go until its final note. Fierce Aria is split into three different parts, all named after tempos of music, which give the reader a specific ambiance before diving into the poems themselves.
The first part, “Andante cantabile,” delves into the meaning of being a poet in a world where words are imperfect and tinged by personal experience. Kahn’s unusual and exciting imagery is obvious from the start, pulling the reader into her world with sharp, compelling teeth. Kahn writes, in reference to “The Language of Clouds” (which is the poem’s title): “We have no vocabulary to compare with these/ dialects of illumination.” She then finishes the poem with the question: “How does my language write me?” This is a question Kahn continues to engage with throughout her work. Kahn expertly weaves vocabulary, spacing, and punctuation to paint the world- and the very art form- she is questioning. Writing is an act of becoming, as written in “One Kiss”: “We crush them, the letters,/ for the sweet juice, running red and purple/ through our fingers. staining us indelibly,/ the river in our veins.”
In the second part of Fierce Aria, “Adagio mesto,” Kahn invites the reader to wonder about the failings of the poet and love, about the cyclical nature of life and creation, which of course includes death and destruction within its circle. The first poem of this section, titled “Small Rooms,” summarizes the work of the poet: “I am crying into a small cup/ as if it were important/ to save these tears.” What else is poetry but saving our tears, our laughter, our pain to share with the world? What else is poetry but collecting within a small cup, drinking it, and hoping to spit it back out for others to perceive? Kahn writes about the loss of love and the fear of being misunderstood, in a way that most readers can fully understand.
In her final section, titled “Allegro grazioso,” Kahn comes full circle. She explores the contradictions of art and living, and begins to accept the love of the world around her. She acknowledges that love means pain as well- you can’t hold onto something so tightly and expect it not to shatter. In her poem “The Heart,” Kahn writes: “but the heart/ with its incessant//thump-thump thump-thump/ has its own music, its own reasons,/ if you can call it that.” Kahn accepts what she cannot control, including her art itself.
Fierce Aria is an incredible work of art that I encourage anyone to pick up and read. It is certainly something I will be reading more than once. You can follow Maxima Kahn at https://www.maximakahn.com/
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