Frost in the Low Areas by Karen Skolfield
Zone 3 Press, 2013; 77 pp
Reviewed by Sebastian H. Paramo
In Karen Skolfield's debut collection Frost in the Low Areas, Skolfield's poems are about more than just frost. These poems sprawl beyond the struggles of motherhood, adulthood, or trivialities of daily life in their search for meaning in the ordinary.
Skolfield’s poem “Disposal” is an excellent example of how she succeeds in offering the reader something as domestic as the disposal of waste and yet allows it to become more. She begins, “The things we once loved,/ the cracked and tarnished...The half-lives of plastic....We have a way of letting things go.” Skolfield elevates the act of disposal by equating it with the act of love. Going further, she offers the bigger picture of what becomes of our disposed, “If bears can smell three miles/how deep must the disposal hole be?” Marveling at the desire to dig for what was thrown away, she brings the reader to the question of how deep that disposal hole must be. The image of the bear is playful too because it's unexpected. Even in the midst of digging deeper, Skolfield peppers anticipated humor throughout her collection.
In her poems, she often frames the speaker as she confronts the absurdities of our modern world. Consider “$99 Botox at Urgent Care Clinic, Los Angeles":
I want to take a picture of the sign
but I can't convince Dennis
of the worthiness of it, it's fast-food Botox
and it seems so California
Her poem gives us a portrait of Los Angeles by the use of “Botox” and “fast-food” and amplifies the title’s absurdity through the speaker’s attitude. She pushes us further by skillfully using long sentences that let us enter a meditative space. The poem suddenly becomes a self-portrait of the self in relation to the city.
I'm a country mouse, girl in the woods,
I'm all laugh lines, I'm out of my element,
I'm gaping at the sign and then it's gone
and it's my whole body, sagging.
Skolfield is unafraid of narrative or tackling the seemingly mundane. Anything is game in this collection, but Skolfield pushes these icons of the daily toward meaning. Her titles move from the seemingly impersonal— “Ode to the Fan,” or “In an Amherst Parking Lot, All the Subarus Are Blue,”—to the strikingly specific— “Checking that the Mattress Is Still Strapped to the Car.” In so many ways, Skolfield’s book turns these images of the daily slog toward a type of delight that the reader can’t resist.