At some point in our lives, most of us come to realize that we aren't going to play for the major leagues or star on the silver screen or win...

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by Kathleen Flenniken
University of Nebraska Press,
75 pp., $17.95

At some point in our lives, most of us come to realize that we aren’t going to play for the major leagues or star on the silver screen or win the Nobel Peace Prize, that the accretion over time of our choices and mistakes isn’t adding up to a life quite as dazzling as the one we originally might have envisioned.

Nonetheless, we’re still more or less the authors of our lives, and rather than throw in the towel we have to keep moving — sometimes blundering ahead, sometimes taking interesting detours, and only occasionally pulling up with perplexity at those metaphorical forks in the road.

That wryly revised sense of self is precisely what Kathleen Flenniken is writing about in her new poetry collection, “Famous.”

Author appearance

Kathleen Flenniken will read from “Famous” at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19 at Seattle’s Elliott Bay Book Co. (206-624-6600; Also reading will be Eastern Washington author John Keeble, author of “Nocturnal America,” which won the 2005 Prairie Schooner Book Prize for fiction.

The Seattle poet, who co-edits Floating Bridge Press and leads poetry workshops in area schools, examines how the prosaic trappings of life sometimes morph into virtual entrapments. Whether reading bedtime stories, vacationing in a series of identical Best Westerns across Utah, or suffering through a game of “Clue,” rebellion roils beneath Flenniken’s calm maternal surface.

In her poem, “Colonel Mustard Between Games,” she quietly fumes that “the hell and hardest part of this game” is that “the heart stays sealed, its capacities a mystery.”

Sometimes, however, putting up and shutting up simply stop being an option. In “It’s Not You, It’s Me,” a dutiful Eve vacuums up after Adam and the animals until “after however many days of consecutive Eden/Eve said I gotta get outta here and she did/and the cord snaked after her.”

In other poems, Flenniken packs the resentment away and deftly exalts the everyday.

“LOST COAT, PLS CALL” is a witty lamentation of mother-love, wrapped up in the insufficiencies of a winter jacket, while “Elisabeth Reads Poetry” is an embrace of the fleeting stage of toddlerhood.

There are pieces that deal with the loss of parents, and there are several poems that tackle the complexities of marriage. In different ways, “Map of the Marriage Bed” and “Sarah Chang plays violin” gauge the arc of the perpetual pendulum swing between marital communion and disjunction and back again.

The poem “Dust,” on the other hand, begins with a humble cataloging of lint, debris, flaking skin and dirt, then develops into a surprising and thoroughly enchanting celebration of romantic love: “We burst/like fountains, we shimmer with proper/magnification we’d astonish ourselves.”

Some of these poems address our thoroughly human tendency to be legends in our own minds, but a poem titled “Prayer Animals” gently reminds us that we may be “fabulously wrong.” Still, Flenniken clearly understands how dreams, even unrealized ones, can sustain us through otherwise intolerable times.

While there are elements of pretend in these poems, there is not a shred of pretentiousness. “Famous” is a genuine treasure, which undoubtedly is why it was awarded the 2005 Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Poetry from University of Nebraska Press.