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  Teaching Bones to Fly
Christine Boyka Kluge
Bitter Oleander Press
96 pages, $14.00

Reviewed by: Amy Unsworth
Book rating: 7.75 out of 10 stars

View three poems from Teaching Bones to Fly here


Christine Boyka Kluge's themes-apparent are fittingly implied by the title of her first book Teaching Bones to Fly. Many of these poems have appeared in such publications as Tar River Poetry, The Drunken Boat, and Luna. She has also been a featured artist in the pages of The Bitter Oleander, which is where I first encountered her work. In her interview in the Fall 2001 issue, she defines her writing as "at ease inside imagist territory," with "an affinity towards the Surrealist school." She further explains her style of free verse as "organic in shape, spoken lines forming like a hive or a nest, interwoven, curling into themselves, then out, holding something alive and trembling at their centers." This seems an apt description of these poems written, as C.J. Sage states, "without the structure of stanzaic formulae."

The poems, which deal — often overtly — with life, death, decay, and renewal, embrace both the world of the physical body and the world of emotional perception. With a foot in each realm, Kluge's poems reside somewhere between, an elusive place where reality and fantasy unite. Yet, this place of folk and fairy tales is a familiar one, as some of the settings of the poems are. Re-spinning childhood stories with an adult perspective, Kluge brings many recognizable characters to new life. Her "Mole" is a tender reworking of the Thumbelina story, in which the Mole finds appreciation for his diligent and humble wooing. The details are exquisitely envisioned:
Each morning I awoke
to a gift at my feet,
illumined by miniature flame:
a raspberry's globe of glittering rubies,
the gold sarcophagus
of an empty cicada shell.
For me, you lifted the world
with your narrow back.
Of course, not all of the poems are based on fairy tales; many focus on the experiences of the speaker and are likewise saturated with detail. As I first scanned through the book, the refrain of blood, bones, and darkness seemed heavy-handed. The sections of the book have such ominous titles as "Blood like Nectar" and "The Edible Grave" which I did not find appealing. However, as this collection unfolds, it reveals a woman's intimacy with life's natural cycles and an ability to see beyond the typical nature imagery. The book does deal with death, often, but not as an end, but merely as a necessary part of the process of rebirth.

Kluge's talent of capturing images in startling clarity is most admirable, as is her ability to find something extravagantly lovely in unexpected places. In "Unclasped," "a dead yellow jacket" transforms into "summer's gold brooch" in a way that both acknowledges loss and the end of summer and anticipates its return. Her poems ask us to look at the familiar from new perspectives as means of worship, as comfort, as sanctuary.

What I found especially effective in this book was the author's ability to construct a concrete metaphor out of emotional experience. In "Bell Foundry," the bells forged are not formed out of metal but of words. The metaphor of the heart as a "white-faced mime" in "Invisible Box" is deftly and strikingly executed. I feel as if the surreal elements of several poems are too cloaked for explication, yet others, such as "Iceman," capably allow the reader access to the speaker's emotion through unusual imagery and atypical associations.

These are intimate and inward looking poems buoyed by thought and imagination. They acknowledge that our world and our lives are composed of more than the empirical, but also of "the infinite orchard/of your mind," formed of thought, dream and clarity of vision. They speak of a woman's experience with tenderness and awareness.
View three poems from Teaching Bones to Fly here

Poet's Biography:
  Christine Boyka Kluge lives with her husband and two daughters in North Salem, New York. She is a visual artist as well as a writer. She was given the 1999 Frances Locke Memorial Poetry Award by The Bitter Oleander, where she was the featured author in the Fall 2001 issue. Her writing has received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A chapbook manuscript, Domestic Weather, won the 2003 Uccelli Press Chapbook Contest and will be published in 2004. A hybrid piece won the 2003 Creative NonQuiction Contest sponsored by Quick Fiction, Del Sol Review, and Brevity. Her writing appears in three 2003 anthologies: No Boundaries, Prose Poems by 24 American Poets (Tupelo Press, edited by Ray Gonzalez); Sudden Stories: A Mammoth Anthology of Miniscule Fiction (Mammoth Books, edited by Dinty W. Moore); and (Some from) DIAGRAM: An Anthology of Text, Art, and Schematic (Del Sol Press, edited by Ander Monson). Currently, she is completing a combined prose poetry and short fiction manuscript, Stirring the Mirror. Recent writing has been published by or is forthcoming in Hotel Amerika, Luna, Natural Bridge and Sentence.

The book can be ordered directly from the press at

© 1999 - 2003, by the poets featured herein.