Unique Houses in the Same Town: Kelly Frankenberg reviews Town by Kate Schapira

Town, Kate Schapira,Factory School

Kate Schapira asked 100 people to tell her one thing about their town’s past or present. Over 60 people responded and she used the responses to write poems relating to the word, ‘town,’ in her 2010 book, Town. This is not unusual for Schapira, as she has authored other chapbooks made by other people. Though this one is very different in its content and layout from her more feminist poems; but her poetry seems to do something for her, and that’s help her pay more attention to her words and what they mean and keep a realness in mind by being local.

Some of the responses she received for Town contradicted each other in facts. This was an amusing finding, since she assumed everything that everyone told her was true, and so she explored how to make these contradictions exist together. The main question she attempts to address, is ” not whether we live differently in the same world, but how.” She also uses categories overlapping each other by putting words randomly scattered at the top of the pages, replacing titles. For example, on one page the words are, ” disaster, contradictions, haunting, commerce/currency,” on different lines with varied spaces between them. Another page reads, “custom/law, food, changes,” again with different spacing and placement. In some cases, two poems collide and divide each other, but in a controlled manner like streets and alleys. For example, these poems overlap every other line:

In the teeming profusion of summer lacewings file,

Nobody ever gets married here.

street games gather like mist around the island.

Dealers, wannabe gangsters, sulky
breakers, bad elements,

Fingernail moon covers everybody home,

hungry ghosts, that fein-grained black dirt
we know so well glitters with glass.

from miles around to the town’s many gates.

Lowlives, loveliness, the low lights.

On other pages the poems are broken up similar, but are actually part of the same poem. One can surely get a sense of what makes up the heart of a town with repeating words throughout like streets, water, schools, churches, people, graveyards, and what’s a town without “Main Street?” Secondary words include flowers, banks, money, newspapers, and factories. One main word throughout is ‘change.’ A town is constantly changing as things are built, people move in and out, the water goes up or down, money comes in and out. Or as Schapira says in one poem, “Sometimes in the town, intentions change.”

Another important part of a town expressed in this collection is the people and what they do. For example, one poem reads, “People meeting who hadn’t met for years, it was like a party, kissing, wrestling, their backs to the tree.” This quote is actually from one of the sections that run throughout the book called, “From the Dreamwall.” Though this is never explained, perhaps these are actual dreams she or others had. Another story about the people of the town starts with, “She was the heroine. He was the organist and town drunk.”

Each poem is quite different yet is written in Schapira’s style. It’s almost like each poem is its own unique house within the same town. The actual town is never mentioned and is not important. It’s interesting to take note that all the explanations of the process of the book are in the back of the book, so that the reader first experiences the book as is and without explanation. Perhaps it’s like one would experience a town they are driving through without having read a brochure about it beforehand. The beginning does list all the contributors with Schapira’s name in bold, all under the title of “Town Council.”

Town can be compared to the play “Our Town,” by Thornton Wilder. “Our Town” is about an average town’s citizens. Scahpira can be seen as the Stage Manager, who in “Our Town,” guides the play, takes questions from the audience, describes the locations and makes key observations about the world the play creates. Schapira asked for contributions to Town. She describes the location, and uses her material to draw conclusions about the world and how we see it. In “Our Town,” Wilder’s character Emily says, ” So-people a thousand years from now-this is the way we were in the provinces north of New York at the beginning of the twentieth century.-This is the way we were: in our growing up and in our marrying and in our living and in our dying.” As Schapira attempts to answer “not whether we live differently in the same world, but how,” Wilder poses the question in “Our Town,” “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? -every, every minute?”

The message in Town, and one that connects humans to the town, is expressed in a “Dreamwall” section, “This is what keeps the town a town and the dream a dream: the assumption that humans will only be replaced by other humans. The difficulty of finding any one over the sound of the sea. We return to the town in dreams. It’s our civic duty.”


Kelly Frankenberg is working towards her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans.  She studied writing under former Julliard playwright resident, Kira Obolensky and currently writes for Examiner.com.  Her work has appeared in songs, newspapers, magazines, books, and the web.  She recently wrote and illustrated the Minnesota State Coloring Book for Minnesota’s Governor’s Residence Council.  She’s currently working on her first graphic novel and memoir.  www.kellyfrankenberg.com