Catherine Owen’s latest collection is billed as an “extended love letter” to her poetic influences and fascinations. Poignant and honest, Dear Ghost, breathes with a tenderness that is also blunt and frequently melancholy: “I apologize for the lack of romance. / Memory has an immoral tinge. / It wants its cold beasts to worship.”
At times, this collection feels achingly personal, though Owen’s voice comes across as casual – perhaps even cold – making the revelations in the poems all the more moving. Owen writes down to the bone, laying out plain and simple facts and leaving her readers to feel their way through the work. At times the subject matter seems starkly ordinary, yet there is a weight to the delivery that makes the poems seem much more momentous: “Two inches. All the water we were allowed / in the tub. My father’s orders.”
A standout piece is “The Journal of John Berryman from 1948 to 1971: a reverse glosa of lines.” Here Owen seems to be courting the sublime, while nevertheless remaining tethered to life’s daily realities. In another standout, “Nine: An Extended, Shortened Corona,” Owen writes, “Generally, I sensed the night in everything.”
Dear Ghost, isn’t without irreverence. The first two sections, “Poems that were Overheard in Various Locales” and “Poems that Work in the TV World,” pick up on the more mundane subjects in the collection in humorous ways. This lends a duality between light and shade; it’s not always easy to know just where Owen is going at first, but that’s also part of the allure – the collection doesn’t pander to uniformity, making it an apt reflection of the complex, bittersweet experiences it dramatizes.