The Alchemist’s Kitchen (2010) by Susan Rich published by White Pine Press
I really wanted to like the first poetry collection I reviewed. I wanted to admire the collection as a whole with individual poems synthesizing into a well-rounded exploration of some grand idea. I did not desire to find myself disappointed.
When I plucked The Alchemist’s Kitchen from the 811 section of the “New Book” shelves of the public library, I had every expectation of liking the book. I went home, sat down and read straight through over 4 or 5 days. I admired the title and the concepts stated in the three sections of the book and looked forward to seeing how the poet explored and expanded the concept of an alchemist’s kitchen.
Alchemy is the art and science of taking basic, gross, undesirable material (example: lead) and processing it into a more valued, possibly “purer” substance (example: gold). Alchemy as a concept is used in industrial processing and in writing fiction: take society’s trash and transform it into “gold”. The Alchemist’s Kitchen has the structure to accomplish showing the process of transforming emotional trash into jewels but does not produce.
Disappointed, I sat the book down beside my reading chair. For several days I scowled at it. I moved it from the kitchen table to the ottoman several times. Then, I picked up the collection and read several random poems.
Over the next couple of weeks, I read one or two poems before leaving for work in the morning, while supper cooked, or before going to bed a night. I slowly fell in love with the poems as individuals. I feel like I went to class with the girl who wanted to disappear and stepped in front of a truck. I can see Mrs. Myra Albert Wiggins mounting photographs in his shop. I know his smile as he watches his wife ride her bicycle down the street or when the playboys make snide remarks about his clothes. I feel sorrow for the refugee girl whose hand was cut off by a African bandit who thought her plastic, shiny, gold-colored bracelet had monetary value.
Here lies the problem with The Alchemist’s Kitchen. What Rich has is several poetry collections scattered throughout one book. There is more than one, independent, incomplete story told in this collection. If Rich was attempting to show that the multiple stories (for example, the plight of refugees all over the globe, the legacy of Mrs. and Mr. Myra Albert Wiggins) come to the same alchemical end, she does not accomplish that. I want to know more about Mrs. And Mr. Myra Albert Wiggins. I want to watch the story of the refugees from beginning to end. Some of these poems are beautiful, but as a whole the collection is not cohesive. If she could explore one story, the potential impact of that collection could be earth-shaking.
Publisher: White Pine Press (www.whitepine.org)