Periscope Heart, Kai Coggin
Periscope Heart is part of the new spectrum of confessional work released in contemporary literature. Swimming With Elephants Publications has done an incredibly professional job with the layout and graphic design. And the content? This collection is the sigh of the Universe after Joan of Arc sweeps her flaming sword across love’s horizon.
We read of Coggin’s philosophy of desire, her mapping of the human body, and the magical realm of learning to love. “The Day I Was Jesus Christ (Total Eclipse of the Heart)” gives the protagonist a new face. She plays Christ in a school play and is surrounded by numerous vices.
“That’s when I step off the cross
and to go to her,
my broken young follower,
my torn down, persecuted child,
as if I am Savior,
as if I am Messiah,
Mess i ah,
Mess I am,
Mess of me becoming salvation?”
Who is the persecuted child and does she reflect the protagonist’s actual Self? Coggin convinces herself she is the Savior, and we are all in need of a Savior. She steps outside of her own troubles, becomes Teacher/Rabbi, and holds the young hearts in her arms to shield them from pain. She turns her bright eyes inward and experiences the total eclipse of her heart by recognizing the playacting is perhaps serious. We realize ourselves in the roles we play.
In “This is how to eat your past:”, the poetry becomes a way to uncloak and surrender the story one experiences as initiation into poetic experience.
“find the day your daddy drove away after
leaving you and mommy and sister in another country,
first learning the word divorce,
find worrying and fear,
find the day at 13 when you were raped
by the dark hands of a stranger…”
The writing ceases to be a conflagration of ideals and images. It becomes pure wings floating on the winds of courage, facing the malice and intentional ill will of others. This collection is a series of confessions advanced after discussions of beauty and desire, and musings on love. Take “Yuanfen” at face value: “Yes,/ this is/ a word/ it has/ rested buried/ between/ my breastplate/ and heart/ since my last/ incarnation, lover…” Coggin is flirting with desire and fate in this piece. She makes the dream of existing come alive, and clarifies why it often fails to hide its dreaminess.
Kai Coggin is a passionate educator, as Sandra Cisneros remarked, and her poetry steps outside the usual curriculum. She invites you, as the title suggests, into her heart to take a peek above waters and out into the unknown. This collection defies categories of mind, and trusts feeling and empathy over all. I cannot speak volumes on it. It is a pure, original, and beautifully simple collection. It will have you dancing in your own mind, looking for that pen you just had in your hand, and wanting to understand that deep grief in your own heart you have attempted to expunge for years with little luck. Coggin has mastered the art of making truth clever, bright and charming, and of using a self-created myth to untie the knots personal history has created. The yarn of the labyrinth can only be untied by its maker, Ariadne. This is part of making the past art: finding that origin, cutting into it no matter how fearsome it is, and recovering the loose strings that made it so mysterious in the first place.
I must confess I felt this book deeply. Without having met the author in person, I have used her poetry as a vehicle to meet her face-to-face, our hearts intertwining and clasping each other like friends in battle against a common enemy. The enemy is fear, in all its forms, and only poets are acclimated to it well enough to know its purposes. The natural consequence of the depth of mystery is fear. We must let go of the denial: some are scared of fear.
Periscope Heart is a conceptual title. You are not let down into the heart—the heart ascends to meet you. Think of the cosmos, the imagination, your first kiss. The heart peeks out of its nest and seeks conversation.
Poets are often lovers, troublemakers, whisperers, heroes, warriors, soulmates, loners. Poetry as an art form reaches out from within. It tells the reader what the truth of the inside is. Art is the rare place where people can pursue honesty about themselves, their world, and their hopes and feelings. This inquiry is knitted with questions regarding aesthetics, motion, virtue. Art is not only a seeking; it is a finding. This collection is a beautiful expression, tender and kind. Its angelic wings will bring the stars to you after a long climb. You can rest now.
If poetry is only a communication of writers between writers, we are failing as artists to make the unknown graspable to the average ear and eye. Periscope Heart does not read like an Auden or early Yeats, full of compounded thought. It is an unveiling of color and the heart’s singing to itself for others to hear.
This is a remarkable performance. You will love this collection.
Dustin Pickering is founder of Transcendent Zero Press, an independent poetry publisher based in Houston, Texas. He has been published by Lost Coast Review, Seltzer, di-verse-city 2013 and 2015, and the virgin Muse for Women anthology. He also hosts two separate poetry reading events in south Houston.