On Brenda Coultas' A Summer Newsreel

by Jo Ann Wasserman

Brenda Coultas, A Summer Newsreel, Second Story Books, San Francisco, CA, 1999. 23 pages.

The threshold of Brenda Coultas’s chapbook-length poem/prose piece A Summer Newsreel is an invitation for and an hesitation toward a revealing of Americana. For Coultas this takes form in a vocabulary of moving pictures. Like a locomotive moving alongside glowing wheat fields, A Summer Newsreel transits through a landscape in the heart of American farm country, hunting peculiar nostalgic imagery ("So many people would like to be her making taffy all summer and living near Holiday World where everyday is a holiday. So many would like to be her living near Abe Lincoln’s farm near the replicas of Abe Lincoln’s boyhood."); ("Hey poem, you, God’s poem, what is happening today in Bloomfield?") God, and notions of the self/poet ("Is there something Brenda Coultas can do for you? She would like to help you. She is reading and writing and stopping to serve you"). Her work is built up from the projections of rural life ("What will the Coultas family do today?/Mom will fry bacon./Dad will work a crossword puzzle./The entire family will mow again/and plant one mum."). These scenes are captured without framing the imagery in sweetness or coy hipness. While the writing exhibits the idiosyncratic and banal side-by-side, Coultas never allows her projections to devolve into kitsch. A listing of oddities is not the focus here. In fact, the poet goes a long way in debunking such postmodern cynicism. She is not just showing pictures of a quirky tableau, rather, she is seeking to expose a varied backdrop to her own competing writer-selves. The conflicting selves who cannot place "home" in one location, the competing selves who must check in and check up on each other in the making of poems, "What day//is it Brenda? It’s a holiday I reply. Alternate parking/ rules apply.//So much reading and writing has already gone into this/ poem. This poem wanted to imitate a piece of smart and/ beautiful writing. This poet wanted to write a piece of/ writing."

A Summer Newsreel is a film about the making of a film ( her first book, Early Films, was published by Rodent Press in 1996). The poet’s own little "Hearts of Darkness" (a film about the making of "Apocalypse Now"). All secrets are out, "This poet wanted to write a piece of/ writing." A Summer Newsreel captures the life that goes into the making of this writing. It is the fantasies ("so nude the farmers on John Deere combines, reapers of/corn now reapers of men/foolish nudes among the yarrow") and desperate needs ("In first grade I prayed for God to send me a friend. It took/almost a year to receive a friend from God.") of a poet’s history. It is an attempt to report honestly. It is the footage of this reportage. The succession of individual images is held together by Coultas’s urgency to connect out into the world, a world that is beyond the writing of poems but essential to that writing. She is urging us to read on, "I’ve stopped writing, but keep reading, Reader, open your/ vessels and keep reading." She is asking us to read on honestly and help her continue to imagine a life of writing poems. The entry point for the book is a call to singing something true, "Is singing a song, an American song, an American folk song allowed?" This is not a rhetorical question. Brenda Coultas would really like to know.


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