Coney Island is best known as a New York seaside resort, famed for its carnival atmosphere and clanky funfair rides. It does, however, also feature prominently in the title of Amy Schreibman Walter’s collection Coney Island And Other Places – a book of nineteen poems written around and inspired by various places. Coney Island is but one of the many locations featured in this slim but diverse collection.
The first poem, “Swamp”, sits squarely in the sticky, sickly warmth of Florida during the narrator’s youth. There are ants, chameleons, reptiles. There are girls “almost drowning in the pool“. It sounds like a rich, sumptous, and not-entirely-pleasant environment. We don’t spend long there, though, as in the very next poem we’re whisked away across an ocean – emigrating to the third poem “Oxfordshire”. It’s an excellent beginning to a chapbook, and it gives the whole thing a story of its own: having left home behind, the narrator spends the remaining pages searching for her place in the world.
A later poem sees the narrator flicking through a set of photographs, thinking back on all the places that she has visited or lived. This is, in fact, a good way to think of the collection as a whole – a kind of poetic photo album filled with strong, vivid memories of people and place. We wander from the Palace Theatre to the home of an unhappy marriage and on to Venice, to Coney Island, to the deeper parts of the narrator’s own imagination.
Not all of the poems are so much concerned with physical place. Some revolve around a moment in time, a particular relationship, or some other memorable detail. Nevertheless there’s a very strong sense of a journey in this collection. It is masterfully crafted so as to work both on the level of each individual poem and when read as a whole cohesive story.
A few of the poems feel as though they wander a little from the rest. “A Single Flower He Sent Me, Since We Met” is constructed out of first lines taken from Dorothy Parker poems – it lacks the strong sense of image that make the other poems in the collection so affecting, and feels as though it’s stuck in there without much thought. “The Night Normal Mailer Made His Last Televised Speech” on the other hand sounds as though it might well be irrelevant, but is in fact much closer to the mark, managing to mix the personal and the politcal smoothly in a very small space, while also throwing in a handful of haunting and loaded images.
Coney Island And Other Places is Walter’s first chapbook, but some of her poetry is available online in issue #26 of Neon, and is also forthcoming in issue #36. You can get your hands on your own copy of her collection via her personal website www.amyschreibmanwalter.com.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England. He works as a copywriter for a charity, and in his spare time writes book reviews.