by A.E. Stallings
70 pp. TriQuarterly Books / Northwestern. $16.95
The preparation for Greek Orthodox lent is a long celebration mixing faith and food, and one night’s feast is known as Tsiknopempti, or Smoke Thursday. “The cooked meat fills the air with smoke that rises to the gods,” an American poet living in Athens explained to me over coffee. “Or, God,” she paused and thought. “Yes, to them, probably God.” Her name is Alicia Stallings, and this slippage seems to match the mysteries of history and behavior present in her third collection of lyric poetry, Olives.
The pleasure of a phrase or one of her myriad rhymes may be what you notice first, but finishing a poem you immediately have the sense of knowledge gained, of one poem’s deliberate arrangement and assessment of a subject. You realize you have an incredibly useful book in your hands. Writing poems about jigsaw puzzles, arguments with a spouse that are resolved in a landscape, the pop music her son will eventually listen to, she presumes the reader knows the gods of ancient Greece are out there, still winging themselves over an olive grove, but that without poetry the soul could never consent to such a belief. Stallings appears both mathematical in her use of received forms as well irreverent, a genius poking the fare in the back of the tavernaki.