by Louise Mathias
In The Traps, Louise Mathias’s second collection of poetry, the reader is pulled through “border towns of citrus and blood” and forests that “grow sparse as a beggar’s dress,” while experiencing the voice of a poet that is unrestrained by a straight-forward narrative thread; rather, Mathias grounds The Traps in a rich mix of imagery. Dense in form, these compact poems exist in an unbridled imaginative realm. Within this realm, the poems dance between beauty and brutality, terror and temptation: “There’s the theory / of the girl; the one that // was holding wisteria. // Which, when you get right / down to it, strangles trees.”
The poems’ stunning, often melancholy, lyricism—“thumbs drenched in paraffin wax,” “sand-soft husks of a walnut”—creates a sense of loss and longing, and places us in an eerie world marked by a persistently honest voice. This voice sporadically surfaces to confess, “He posed me like a dead girl and I liked it,” and to question “You’re dying, don’t you know?” Often focused on imagery of constraint, as the title suggests, “in the narrowest spaces,” and “tied to the rafters,” these poems deftly describe life’s traps—what it means when they hold us tightly and what it means when they let us escape.
“Cruelty is the secret to these blinding, delicate poems, a secret preserved by melodrama of the subtlest kind, untold, except by the operations of language turning away from itself: cutting, circling, fainting, breaking, lulling, binding. Scenes of indirection captivate, posing the enigma of cruelty in our own age: spoilage, compulsion, a teenage relic, a mystery play restaged in the post-urban deserts of Los Angeles. Mathias sets a snare in these poems from which the reader, once caught, struggles in vain to release herself.”
“The poems of Louise Mathias's The Traps are grounded in the brief, frozen moments that precede being unsettled, startled, unhinged—but they're not so preoccupied as to forget that speakers need listeners, poems company. Their hard stares bring with them outstretched arms.”
The 10:15 to Cambridge
Maybe twin violets have reasons.
They say there‘s a world
that keeps on coming up with springs—can you count
the times you‘ve seen it
on one hand?
But I wish you the swirling grace of London Swans.
That the oncoming train
was a pack of the shyest white horses.
about the author
Louise Mathias was born in Bedford, England and grew up in England and Los Angeles. She is the author of Lark Apprentice, chosen by Brenda Hillman for the New Issues Poetry Prize and published by New Issues Press in 2004, as well as a chapbook, Above All Else, the Trembling Resembles a Forest, which won the Burnside Review Chapbook contest. Her poems have appeared in Barrow Street, Massachusetts Review, Octopus, TriQuarterly, and many other journals. She splits her time between Joshua Tree, California, a small town in the Mojave Desert and Northern Indiana.