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Poetry Book Review: "Soaptrees" by Mara Vahratian

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A review of poet Mara Vahratian's book "Soaptrees" contrasted with the work of filmmaker Wong Kar-wai


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Poetry Book Review: "Soaptrees" by Mara Vahratian


It is a restless moment"..

I once had a dream about someone I casually knew. We sat together on a bus and talked for hours. Suddenly, in the nonsensical world of dreams, we were standing next to a pool, still talking, but this time holding hands. Then for some reason, she was later kidnapped. In my dream, I searched for her. It was a desperate, frantic action. I was fiercely in love with her. I would have done anything to find this woman. But it was futile. And when I woke up, the emotions were so strong that I immediately wrote down everything I could recall. I also decided that this was a person I should get to know. We have been good friends for several years now. I have never told her about the dream. Or how much I loved her in those moments. I have no need to. I don't feel that it's appropriate. It all existed in another world.

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This dream signifies several themes. Idealized love. Loss of love. Platonic love. The search for love. These themes are also all part of the world created by Hong Kong filmmaker, Wong Kar-wai. In his masterful film, In The Mood For Love, set in 1962, Wong tells the story of two neighbors, a man, Chow Mo-wan, and a woman, Su Li-zhen, who have spouses who work often and leave them alone. In their loneliness, they gravitate towards one another, and confess their suspicions that their spouses are cheating on them with each other. In time, Chow and Su grow close and begin to write a martial arts serial for the newspaper where Chow works as a journalist. Their relationship deepens and both are unsure of how to proceed with it. What follows is a platonic relationship eroticized by an intense yearning between two would-be lovers. The pining is elegant, made even more so by their mutual unwillingness to debase themselves in the same manner as their spouses.

In The Mood For Love resonates an affectionate melancholic energy throughout the entire film. From beginning to end, the viewer can't help but feel an actual powerful mood for love, almost to the point of distraction, but, as gorgeous as this is, there is a lack of fulfillment. While love is not totally destroyed, it is not meant to fully come to pass.

It is in the film's sequel "2046" where Wong alludes to a world where lonely people can travel and recapture lost loves. The existence of this world, also named "2046" gives some hope that Chow and Su will eventually meet up again some day.

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And it is through the metaphor of the "2046" world that I would like to consider Mara Vahratian's Soaptrees.

First, a few clarifying points:

In the film, "2046" is a mysterious place located in a cosmic dystopia. "2046" has no clear definition, it could be a place or a state of mind. Soaptrees could be either as well, but it is not meant to be a replica of the place or events from the film.

Also, Soaptrees, to me, has a more positive connotation than the world and overall events from the film.


"he picked me up in a pickup truck"

"Her tottering told, the blender going I make my own thanks. Boil

them jars. If he is a nightjar on the prairie she is learning hideaways,

breath gives her away. Violet kissing comfits like mine, lent a while

before the days patchwork her out, gingham or linen each a

wrong estimation---sure didn't shotgun, though pliant. Swaggers, he

got me some flowers thinks he got me good when it's just cussed

bearings to back, tie down that rucksack a body won't be but

stepping, percussive and keeping to itself."

In Mara Vahratian's Soaptrees, you'll find an eclectic world of love, land/place and language. Whether, according to my metaphor, Soaptrees is a world or a state of mind is unclear, but, simply put, it is a smart, fun place to be. Or as Mara's friend the poet, Shelly Taylor puts it: " Mara writes from a sincerely honest place necessitated by delight/crazy awe for life. There is a delightful innocence to her writing not to be mistaken with naïvete, as the speaker of these poems is clever, like genius clever. "

And it's the cleverness that is endearing. Vahratian uses repetition such as "fine-fine", "silver-silver" and "clang-clang (yeah yeah)" to great effect. In Vahratian's skilled hands the impact is charming and amiable. This charm, more than anything, differentiates it from the pain-tinged lamentation of the films of Wong Kar-wai. In Soaptrees' world, you don't feel the same heartache or regret. It's not a place where the lonely go to recapture lost love. Sure, she reminisces, but it's all forward thinking. In short order, she moves on to different places, events and adventures. In Soaptrees, there is nothing to recapture. Everything is new. You are a different person in that world. It is where revitalized people find new love, as opposed to dwelling on the past.

Moreover, her interpretation of love is not destructive. On this Taylor continues: " Reading these poems it's easy to see that they're essentially love poems---the speaker is not writing from a place of love-destruction so usually seen in writing ruminating on intimate relationships---there is awe & fascination of masculine/ultra-feminine relationship roles in Soaptrees. "

Love is not idealized or lost in Soaptrees. It just exists. And in fun little moments like: "Touring the South Rim showed you good.." or "Seedy we met, two apologetic I don't do this oftens"" She still touches on the same themes from my dream or the films, but with a different narrative, different character interaction & from a woman's perspective. It's entertaining, at times irreverent and I agree with Shelly Taylor when she says: " It's ridiculously fresh & real so read it ."

Mara Vahratian Photo Credit to Mara Vahratian

Bill Wetzel is Amskapi Pikuni aka Blackfeet from Montana. He's a former bull rider/wrestler turned writer and a coauthor of the short story collection "The Acorn Gathering." His work has appeared in or is forthcoming from the American Indian Culture (more...)
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Mara Vahratian is from southeastern Michigan and ... by Bill Wetzel on Thursday, Feb 9, 2012 at 7:22:03 PM
What do I think of Mara as a person: &nb... by Bill Wetzel on Thursday, Feb 9, 2012 at 7:24:28 PM
You must be a babe magnet, Bill.   Must be... by Ned Lud on Friday, Feb 10, 2012 at 10:46:18 AM
I wish I was a babe magnet! And I have short hair.... by Bill Wetzel on Friday, Feb 10, 2012 at 11:27:49 AM