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Pretty Little Rooms
by Katie Chaple
40 poems/80 pages/$12.00
Press 53
PO Box 30314
Winston Salem, NC 27130

Reviewed by Ed Bennett

Reading Katie Chaple's latest book, Pretty Little Rooms, brought back memories of my first trip to New York's
Museum of Natural History. The Human Anthropology section had a series of dioramas showing people in various
habitats. What drew me to these dioramas was their differences ranging from the desert to the arctic yet the
common theme in each of them was how humans lived in these varied conditions.

Pretty Little Rooms is divided into six sections, each with a specific theme yet the underlying commonality to
each is the poet's observation of how people react with their emotional landscape. Ms. Chaple moves between first
person exposition to third person observation quite fluidly and, while some of the material has a dark side, she
introduces humor with the timing of a standup comic. Pretty Little Rooms is neither a trip through an abstract
universe nor a ride through an abyss.

The first section deals with the raw emotions of human sexuality. "The Invisible Intruder" deals with Nancy Drew's
need for something more than the "chaste pecs" of her androgynous boyfriend, Ned. "Returning Madam Bovary" takes
place in a bookstore checkout counter where the narrator, tied in the red tape of a book return, looks at the clerk
and considers

"…grab his narrow necktie,
choke him slightly, pull
his pocked face to mine and kiss him,
pushing my tongue into his mouth,
while sliding my hand down the front
of his flat front khakis."

She then asks if this is what we all want – to be pursued with a "single minded urgency". This tongue in cheek (no
pun intended) study of human need uses humor to explore what makes us human.

Section two explores this same territory by looking at performance. Ms. Chaple's poems here reference episodes in
the lives of Houdini, Chaplin, Del Close and even her sister. Again, her humor is quite evident in "Charlie Chaplin
Enters a Charlie Chaplin Look-alike Contest". Her first line is:

"And comes in third."

Life becomes a "funhouse of mirrors" yet through the laughter one realizes that everyone has his own story despite
our "pantomiming the pantomime".

I don't want to give the impression that this is a collection of light verse or satiric poetry. Ms. Chaple deftly handles
weightier issues. In "The Skull of the Comedian" she deals with the comedian and performance artist Del Close.
If you are unaware of Del Close bequeathal of his skull to the Goodman Theater it would be a good idea to Google it.
The play touches briefly on the "scandal" surrounding the scull but primarily focuses on the passing on of this teacher's 
vision from one stage to the next, ad infinitum.

Each of the six sections of this book are well constructed studies of human emotion and our reaction to them. The language
is quite straightforward and with an honesty that can present questions that will shake a reader to their core. Occasionally
the poems are constructed with enough arcana to require some looking up, but this tends to draw the reader even closer to
the poem rather than abandon them in a pool of ignorance.

In "31st Birthday, A Partial Death' the narrator considers her 31st birthday and the loss of a loved one. The second verse
paragraph mentions the losses as follows:

"I realize today that I am older than you will ever be.
I felt I have been creeping forward
to meet you and have turned a moment too late.
You have stopped the spring, the tulip won't bubble
to the surface, the bulbs of the daffodils
won't open, and the oven's golden bulb
             has blown its filament."

I am reminded of the opening paragraphs of Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd". The emotion is subdued and
there is the reference to the cessation of spring. She effectively uses the hard "b" sound so that it almost becomes a
feminine alliteration and keeps the sound moving through lines 4 through 7. This "semi-hard" sounding consonant sets a tempo
for the paragraph that moves through the poem. What is particularly interesting is her choice of "golden" to describe the color
of the oven bulb. The low wattage of the bulb gives it a different, more subdued color thus adding to the somber wording of the

Pretty Little Rooms is an extraordinary work. The construction of the poetic lines to the structure of the book itself is well
conceived and indicative of and outstanding poet. At the risk of gushing further with praise, I simply say that I recommend this
book highly.

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