Book Review

Cristina M.R. Norcross, The Lava Storyteller, Red Mare 7, 2013

by Kathrine Yets

Cristina Norcross's chapbook The Lava Storyteller, charmed me from the get go with its darling handmade booklet. It is number twenty-one of forty, dawning an elegantly fierce woman for the cover art and a shimmering, Italian cotton-blend binding with dancer's bells dangling from the bow. The poetry inside was just as intriguing as its holder.

Norcross's poems go beyond the romantic nature poem and into the wild without becoming overwhelmed or consumed. I feel the best poem to show what I am trying to convey is the title poem, “The Lava Storyteller.”

Island of clay, sand and earth—
liquid lava now silent.
You are the land of trees dripping mangoes
and goats clinging to cliffs.

Bare feet read braille—
ancient explosions—
black crumbs and dust from when earth
was the only inhabitant.

Island of Saba—
the earth speaks of ancestors—
still humming the old stories—
still laughing over a bottle of sweet Malta.

She weaves the mysteries of nature with everyday realities. Here, cultural creations are blended in with her interpretation of the island: “braille” and “bottle.” Through her words the reader feels the earth with their feet, hears what it has to say, and sees pieces of it big and small (from the trees to the dust).

Another lovely shock from this collection came from her poem “How the Kiss Begins,” a poem about kissing that is not cliché. She says a kiss “is a melting and melding –/ richer than the last dollop of butter in the pan.” She writes of the moment before the kiss, the moment of, and the lingering feeling after, making the reader feel as though they just kissed their lover, since she describes the moment with such vivid detail.

I found epiphanies in her similes: “Of scent finding skin,/ of sun caressed wind strokes,/ of seeing, touching, knowing/ the roundness of this moment—/ like the nautilus mystery of curves” (4). This sentence, especially the final line of it, left my mind spinning. Some of her similes simply made me smile, since the connections seemed so obvious but have never come to mind: "The taste of paper lingers/ on my lips,/ as I open and close my mouth/ like a curious fish." The simile is an obvious connection, fish lips opening and closing, but not one that comes to mind off hand. Norcross blends nature into her similes seamlessly, which is another feat.

There are so many “Aha!” moments in this chapbook. I read her entire collection in one sitting on my way to Minneapolis, and her words had me on the edge of my Greyhound bus seat. I plan on picking up her other collections—Land & Sea: Poetry Inspired by Art (2007), The Red Drum (2008), and Unsung Love Songs (2010). You can find links to purchasing her collections on her website as well as more information about this lovely author:

Kathrine Yets is a graduate of UW-Whitewater.