No Such Thing As Distance – Karen Paul Holmes



Review by Lynn Alexander


When you enter Karen Paul Holmes’s poetry, you travel a path between love and death, joy and anguish, gravity and humor—the dualism that makes up the lives of real people. From the moment we set foot in the Bandit Saloon in Montana or cross the threshold of a mirrored ballroom in an imagined Versailles, these poems both ground us in tradition and lift us to the realm of angels.
We follow her beloved mother in her glamorous youth waltzing with a sailor, fluffing her hair in a turquoise dress, and blotting fire-engine red lipstick as she sails from Australia towards marriage and children in Flint, Michigan. Through her daughter’s eyes, we get a glimpse of a demigoddess on her way to becoming a mortal elder, whose fall at midnight leaves a halo of blood on the bathroom floor, to death as a dazzling blonde because of a wig mixup at the funeral home.  
Holmes mirrors her mother’s passion in The Woman Who Can’t Stop Taking Photos of Sunsets:
Beauty hurts and feels good
at the same time: She can’t get enough.
Knockout roses giver her a one-two punch
and assumes the viewpoint of her mother’s lucky talisman, a now-ugly nightgown kept in a high box in a closet, who confesses:
In my cool slipperiness,
I rouse a sleeping husband
who doesn’t care how I look.
As she reads her late mother’s journals in Crossing Off Days, Holmes wonders if opening the secret world of her mother’s thoughts is the right thing to do:
She wanted only to sit in the lounger, a pot of tea,
shoulders shawled for the morning breeze,
garden on the other side
of the porch screens: hibiscus, palms,
honeybell orange.
We progress through Holmes’s childhood of chili dog dinners with her father, to a traditional Macedonian wedding in Flint Michigan. Along the journey from Michigan to Georgia, the betrayal of divorce leads to an almost date with a cowboy in Montana, then to a new love who shares a house on Lake Chatuge. In Capturing the Scent of Rain, we get glimpses of the divine:
Our ancestors taught us to love
the scent because we need rain
to survive
to raise gardens—
and experience the mind-body duality when, aware of the temporal nature of existence, she grasps for an understanding of the eternal in What Will You Do, God, When I Die?:
Will you become me, and I you
as I leave this body, the only home I remember?
Will rejoining be serenity,
even more than I feel
lying drowsy in my love’s embrace?
We find bored angels in the higher realms, grooming their wings and filing their nails as they wait for us to petition them for help:
When we plead, “Protect me from evil,
especially during my IRS audit,” does it work
like the commercial where a steamy bowl
of Cream of Wheat hovers over
the boy’s head all day warding off cold and flu,
maybe bullies, too?
and a style-conscious Barbie who dates George Harrison because:
There was just too much competition for Paul.
My red-headed Barbie chose George, the unappreciated Beatle.
Holmes’s poems are balanced between the tragic and the comic, reflecting a life filled with Mozart arias and babies lost in childbirth, heavenly ham and antichrist carpenter ants, and family recipes for Macedonian bean soup, Zelnik (bread,) Finka (cookies,) and Coney Island hotdogs—the perfect finale to a sundry picnic of poems.


About the book:

No Such Thing As Distance – By Karen Paul Holmes 


About the poet:

Karen Paul Holmes is the author of two books of poetry, No Such Thing As Distance (Terrapin Books, February, 2018) and Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press, 2014). She was chosen for Best Emerging Poets by Stay Thirsty Media in 2016, and publications include Prairie Schooner, Poetry East, Atlanta Review, diode, and Poet Lore. To support fellow writers, Karen started and hosts a critique group in Atlanta and Writers’ Night Out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. She is also a roving writing workshop teacher. 

About the reviewer:
Lynn Alexander is founding staff member of of Poetry Atlanta, serving as Newsletter Editor for twenty years before joining the Atlanta Review as Managing Editor. She has two poetry chapbooks, Hanging Clothes at Midnight and Man Done Gone and is currently working on a memoir, Indelicate Flower