Alice Teeter’s second poetry collection, String Theory, won the 2008 Georgia Poetry Society’s Charles B. Dickson Chapbook Contest in 2008. It was an exceedingly unusual and very interesting collection of poems for several reasons, one of which is that the author had clearly developed a personal style of writing that is instantly recognizable as uniquely hers and no one else’s. This new collection, When It Happens to You (Scottsdale: Star Cloud Press, 2009) is an expansion of String Theory, and it is just as fascinating as its predecessor. Both books stand out because, of the four levels of poetry (the typographical, the sonic, the sensory, and the ideational) the third level, that of trope and image, is highly developed and engaging. If I had to describe Teeter’s style, I’d say that it is at base ambiguous — ambiguity is a strong feature of modern poetry — but simultaneously clear and concrete, as in these lines from “The Woman Who Ate Anger”:
She swam and started singing.
She sang so loud that the neighbors complained.
She said “Good.” “They should complain,” and “I don’t care.”
She swam and sang and the day came
When she left the pool all wrinkled like a prune,
And still singing, she danced naked across the lawn.”
But this final stanza depends on what has gone before, and one needs to read it in context in order to get the full effect of the poem.
Often the poems reminded me of one of my favorite novelists, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose landscapes and locales, characters and incidents are so dreamlike and simultaneously earthen that one might almost be persuaded that Marquez lives on two planes of existence simultaneously. Not that I think When It Happens to You has the mark of Marquez upon it, just that this author, too, lives on two levels in these poems, and both levels are absorbing. “One Variation on a Theme” says and shows so in almost so many words:
She walked out one night
to take the trash out
and never came back.
Somehow between the door
and the garbage can
she stepped out of line.
She wanders somewhere
with garbage in her hand
exchanging glances with
the trash men
and picking up bottles
Poem after poem here is going to be hard for readers to forget: “10 year old dancing,” or “Poem for Ellen,” about the birth of twins — I won’t quote parts of it because to do so would be to commit an injury upon it; the very strange and beautiful “Nine Womensong”; “Sleeping Giant Love,” the point of which I could not, and would not want to, pin down because it says what it says in just the way it ought to have been said, whatever “it” is. “The 103rd Birthday of Emma Regina DeGraffenreid Smith” is a tour-de-force: it is both a double sestina — the best one I have ever read — and a closet drama. There are many voices in this verse play, and each one of them sounds authentic and believable though they are spoken from the points of view of several characters.
Here I am going through the collection again and picking out poems I think are wonderful, and I shouldn’t because there isn’t a poor poem, or even a mediocre one, anywhere on these pages. I’m just very pleased When It Happens to You came my way, and I am able to guarantee that others will happily read and bathe in it too.
As I read Alice Teeter's third collection, Elephant Girls (n.p.: Kelsay Books of the Aldrich Press, 2015), I imagined a calliope playing in the background and every once in a while a bass drum interrupting with a clap of thunder. Wonderfully engrossing sounds, images, deeps and highs in her developing surreal style. A truly enjoyable book of poems.
-- Lewis Turco