Book Review: Kiss/Hierarchy by Alexandra van de Kamp
Alexandra van de Kamp was born in Rye, NY and grew up in NY and CT. She received her B.A. from Johns Hopkins University and her M.F.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Washington. She recently moved to San Antonio, TX with her husband and is the Creative Writing Classes Program Director for Gemini Ink, a nonprofit literary organization based in San Antonio. She teaches in The Writing Program at University of Texas/San Antonio and is also a teaching artist for the online poetry cooperative, The Poetry Barn, where she conducts online intensive poetry workshops. For six years she lived in Madrid Spain, where she co-founded Terra Incognita, a bilingual literary/cultural journal published in Spain and the United States.
Her first full-length collection of poems, The Park of Upside-Down Chairs, was published by CW Books (WordTech Press) in the Spring of 2010 and her chapbook of poems Dear Jean Seberg (2011) won the 2010 Burnside Review Chapbook contest, judged by Matthew Dickman. Her most recent chapbook is entitled A Liquid Bird Inside the Night (2015) and was published by Red Glass Books, out of Brooklyn, NY.
Her second full-length collection of poems, Rain/Hierarchy, is published by Rain Mountain Press, 2016.
.A Review of Alexandra Van de Kamp’s Kiss/Hierarchy by R. E. Steele
Alexandra van de Kamp’s poetry is an elegant canvassing of romance, lost love, and the methodical way time weaves its way between these moments. She uses nuances of noir from Agatha Christie, as well as glamour from film stars such as Josephine Baker, and artists like Marc Chagall, to construct a vibrant scene. Meanwhile, her use of landscape sets her readers in the heart of each alluring poem. The excitement she pulls from these predominantly European influences is grounded with poems that are more self-aware of the entire collection’s themes.
Her pieces speak from experience as the narrator, almost voraciously, describes the way that loss ceaselessly slips into life:
I want each day to pour like an hourglass−
svelte and methodical; loss encased
in a seasoned decanter and divvied out like a wine.
In this, loss is given in slow, easy pours. The feeling is bitter sweet, much like the taste of the wine spilling out. Van de Kamp’s poetry stresses the desire to enjoy living by trying to extend the amount of time we have, while also slowing down the pain we receive over the course of that time. She does a seamless job at bringing her readers to this place by setting the tone with a look into the past.
Can I have a sip of espresso, please? But, waiter, it must
be from a café in Milan in 1985 − the January rain
pooling in my shoes, the beige sleep from a cheap
hotel folded into the cup like wasp’s wing.
Reminiscing about an earlier time, she takes us back to a day presumably better than the present. Van de Kamp’s use of unfortunate circumstances such as having a night of “beige sleep” romanticizes the past she desperately wants us to return to. Readers are reminded that even days that may have brought on frustration or sorrow, there are some worth remembering. She returns to the idea that we can laugh at what once was our misery.
She discusses this excellently with her first section of poems Bonjour Tristesse, which pays homage to the Otto Preminger film. Her work intertwines the blissful optimism and decadence of new love with a dose of realism. “Play the crap tables, heroine, /roll the dice…The body/a champagne glass time twists…a nimble, shattering thing…”. Although this glamorized effect is on rare occasion weakened by sentimentality, such as in Dear Jean Seburg, “When regret watermarks the heart, tattoos us/permanently to ourselves,” overall, she has skillfully curated a collection of sophisticated romanticism.
Van de Kamp sets up each poem as a stage, spotlighting her work with glitz and mystery. Her pieces are dressed for a stroll in the Rivera, as well as a nightcap in a smoky lounge. This collection is a European time-capsule that we wander through, as we experience this effervescent and sometimes mournful life with her.
R.E. Steele is a Lewis University graduate, who majored in English with a focus in Creative and Professional Writing, alongside a minor in Chinese. She currently serves as the Book Reviews Editor for Jet Fuel Review. Some of her own writing has been published in the spring 2015 issue of the Windows Fine Arts Magazine. When she has a few moments to herself, she kicks back with a craft beer and has a Netflix binging marathon. Some of her favorites include X-Files, Doctor Who, Orange is the New Black, Californication, and American Horror Story.