Sophie Klahr's _____ Versus Recovery is a long poem about recovery from addiction. If, in content, it's what you'd expect -- an intoxicant-haunted journey through fear, isolation, 12-stepping, relapse and redemption --stylistically this debut chapbook isn't what you might fear. The poem is told in the first person, and often in the present tense; Klahr is in her mid-20s. But she handles this risky material with sharp lyricism and an even more impressive sense of control: Throughout we have complete access to the narrator's feelings, but they're framed by Klahr to avoid poetry pitfalls ranging from self-pity to self-aggrandizement.
The delicate little book is handbound, the poem itself divided in six sections, with lines that run and scatter across the page, and sometimes stand in parallel columns of text. "And if disease runs in my family / it does so at night," writes Klahr with characteristic barbed humor about stealth and denial. After introducing her junkie lover, the narrator is equally incisive about her own weaknesses: "Every angel is an arsonist, / and I, moth / abandoned." And later: "relapse's little sepia self-portrait / shows the face doubled over / doubled, / but no, Darling the world didn't stop, / and finally, wasn't that the worst terror of all?"
Perhaps best of all, the writing gets even better as the poem goes on. After a harrowing journey ("muscles kick, kick, kick. eyes burn"), in the final section Klahr shows herself capable of a lightness that's almost shocking. "[O]n the bank beneath a willow / the child holds a harmony / crouched in bare feet, / her voice a cello," she writes. And "hello undiscovered cities and angels / with faint scars."
Klahr, a Pittsburgh native now living in Lawrenceville, marks her chapbook's publication with a Nov. 9 reading titled Blues, Sugar, Bones, at ModernFormations Gallery and Performance Space. Also reading are poets Carolyn Elliot and Anne Marie Rooney, both recent graduates of Carnegie Mellon University.
Blues, Sugar, Bones (readings by Carolyn Elliot, Sophie Klahr and Anne Marie Rooney). 8 p.m. Fri., Nov. 9. ModernFormations Gallery, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. Free. 412-362-0274
In just a few years, Pittsburgh-based Autumn House Press has grown into a redoubtable publisher of poetry. The more than two dozen volumes issued under founder and executive editor Michael Simms include books by notables including Ed Ochester, Gerald Stern and Sheryl St. Germain, along with such ambitious projects as Joyful Noise: An Anthology of American Spiritual Poetry, edited by Robert Strong.
Autumn House's latest venture is Coal Hill Review, an online poetry journal whose autumn issue is also the inaugural number. It's edited by Joshua Storey with associate editor Anna Catone, and features verse by David Huddle, Jennifer Wallace and five others.
Coal Hill (named after an old denomination for Mount Washington, where Autumn House is headquartered), is seeking electronic submissions for its spring issue. The journal accepts submissions from both established and emerging poets writing in a wide range of styles. The deadline is Feb. 15. See www.coalhillreview.com for details.