Tobi Cogswell's Sanity Among the Wildflowers
Some writers gifted with poetic vision are often tempted to abuse their literary license by disguising their work in metaphor and abstraction. Recently, as a poem I wrote was decimated in a workshop, it was imparted to me by the other workshop attendees that the reader prefers to be "shown" instead of "told," so as to better experience the poem, to draw her own conclusion, and to let a new concept permeate her consciousness.
Personal feelings (bruised, but healing) aside, I found this truth in Tobi Cogswell's chapbook Sanity Among the Wildflowers (2005 Carpeted Stone Press). In this debut collection, Cogswell explores varied facets of womanhood, like in the poem "Extraordinary," which opens with a tableau where two people discover what binds them together:
"They have exquisite conversations.
He calls her "Little Missy" to his
After a boat. They discuss
the planets in order. And how fish can sleep if
they have no eyelids. They
debate the subtleties of mango and passion
order artichokes with remoulade.
They have danced around his
wish to have been named
Kimberly, if he had been a girl."
The turn of the poem reflects its title:
... Each night
they sleep the satisfied sleep of the angels
and the entitled, their dreams
the fuel for tomorrow's discussion.
They are each other's blessing.
And he is only 5.
An overly sentimental tone permeates Sanity, but each ending is clever and succinct. Each poetic vignette is like a warm, welcoming hand that gently draws the reader in, seducing her with delightful phrases; "The hum of lovers/exploring newly found tattoos" (Morning Song); "She is reflected backwards/in a shadow box of mirrors" (Cello); and "I have such sadness that you/of the aquiline nose and Toreador's brow, will never know my name" (Para Marco), until that moment when the seduction process turns into a big literary "GOTCHA!" as the rug is pulled out and the reader is upended(like when someone scares you out of the hiccups or yells "BOO!" at you while watching a horror film).
I'm willfully eccentric in my literary preferences, but I haven't been this surprised or delighted by a collection of poetry since Sarah Maclay's award-winning book Whore. Now this leads me to point out the following: the best poetry can be found in the most unassuming places. Tobi Cogswell is a local girl, so if you want purchase a copy of Sanity, then make the trip down to Redondo Beach to the Coffee Cartel where she shows up faithfully each week to share her wisdom, and her unswerving faith in humanity. Or email her. Either way, you won't be disappointed.
(Sanity Among The Wildflowers, Copyright 2005, Carpeted Stones Press, Available through the author, at firstname.lastname@example.org, $5.00 + $1.00 shipping and handling)