The Tulip-Flame by Chloe Honum

(Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2014)

Review by Barbara Bailey

Chloe Honum regards New Zealand as home.

Now living and working in Texas, she grew up in Glenfield, where she attended Manuka Primary, Glenfield Intermediate and Carmel College in Milford.

At 15, she moved to Santa Monica, California, to live with her paternal grandmother.

The natural beauty explored in Honum’s North Shore childhood, resonates in this poet’s creativity. Her images of nature capture time spent playing in her mother’s garden or evening swims at Milford Beach, and they generate a sense of big-sky space, with soaring birds, trumpet-flowers, misty woods and stars.

The sense of an outdoor North Shore childhood coils and weaves through The Tulip-Flame. Knotted in are twists of heart-wrenching pain and strands of loss.

Being torn away from her home country at a formative time of life has created a state of homesickness for New Zealand. Honum believes this to be at the core of her poetry.

A sense of loss permeates The Tulip-Flame: loss of homeland; loss of mother, who committed suicide; and lost love and relationships.

The book’s cover attracts. The empty bodice image exudes sadnesses, traces of a life removed and displacement.

Honum’s poems reach out, and in, and touch those concealed, raw ends, stirring one’s emotions.

In “Silence Is A Mother Tongue”, the garden her mother tended ‘When she was well’ is painted in bold strokes: ‘black irises, heavy orchids’ and blackbirds on the clothesline. Lying underneath this summer portrait is the silence, the unsaid conversations between mother and daughter. The wonderings of a daughter about what is going on.

She prompts the reader with ‘Our silences’, which were like ‘something turned over’. Just as the garden rock she had overturned, encrusted with ‘a cluster of quartz crystal’, she needed to know the other side of her mother, her needs and concerns, the hidden things.

The candid poems in Chloe Honum’s The Tulip-Flame are hard to put down. They thread through life experiences and bare scars from untold tales. The poems are intrinsically linked, with experiences reverberating through generations.  These poems touch, merge, diverge and slide in and out of each other.

They are cathartic, elegant and tough, revealing layers of hurt and grace and are sweet with rhythm and metaphor.

About Chloe Honum:

Author of The Tulip-Flame (CSU, 2014), selected by Tracy K Smith for the 2013 Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize, her first collection is a winner of the 2015 Eric Hoffer Book Award in Poetry, Foreword Review’s 2014 Book of the Year, and the 2014 Best First Book of Poetry Award for the Texas Institute of Letters.

Chloe’s poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Poetry, Agni, Orion, and The Southern Review, among other journals. Mark Strand selected her work for Best New Poets 2008 and Claudia Emerson selected her work for Best New Poets 2010.

She has been awarded a Ruth Lilly Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation and a Pushcart Prize, as well as fellowships from the MacDowell Colony, the Kerouac House of Orlando, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference.