Book Review: Kendra Tanacea’s “A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees”

BY: Catherine M. Darby

A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees by Kendra Tanacea is a haunting first collection of poems released this year by Lost Horse Press. Tanacea is a master of the moment—not straight-on moments, but rather, ones full of visuals and emotions that transport the reader into Tanacea’s world. In this world, the reader becomes a lover, beloved, betrayed, friend, child, and want-to-be-mother, all while ruminating about life and the fullness it can offer.

Her poems intelligently meander on corners of braided rugs and peep through keyholes to see what life is beyond that usual existence of life, her words intoning the mysteries and science of the universe.

In “Keyhole,” the narrator looks through the keyhole of a locked door, straining to see “what is out of sight.” The words deliver full sensory experiences of an ever-widening life:

There is the scent of man, of woman, of cedar.
The eye shifts, straining in its socket.
French doors open onto a veranda
overlooking an ivy-walled garden.
The round moon is rising, giant and yellow.
Star jasmine, star jasmine!
An eye can see far beyond
its scope: solar systems, galaxies,
the Milky Way’s skid of stars.
All atoms, revolving around one another.

In many of her poems, such as, “Perspective,” “A Strange Explosion in Scorpio,” Tanacea evokes celestial and astronomical phenomena, as if looking through a telescopic eyepiece; but she brings the reader light years closer to her concentrated images by connecting the intimate and infinite space while life is lived passionately through her language.

The temporality of life is another aspect of her poems. In “The Past: A Working Hypothesis,” the narrator wrestles with this concept and the weight of analyzing life and decides not to return to the past:

Getting to the bottom of things assumes a bottom.
Just getting to the heart of things assumes its fixed position.

The narrator has discarded “shovel” and “trowel,” as she is not “even sure where the heart is located anymore.” She has decided not to go back to places

where my heart expanded
and the places where it staggered.

Because distance is always divided in half, you get closer
and closer to the threshold, but ultimately, never reach it.

And I’m not going back means circling overhead,
some say like a bird, but I say like a Blue Angel.
There are high speed loops and sophisticated stunts.
And no purpose or mission whatsoever.
Just white circles temporarily scraped in the air.

The simile of the temporary contrail depicts an aimlessness as “scrap[ing]” one’s way through life for meaning.

Another aspect Tanacea expresses in her poems is the tension of energy and love, like in “Photosensitive” or “Instructions from the Sun.” In the latter poem, it is the winter sun’s “slant-light” warmth, not a direct summer heat that the narrator expresses. Although the lover’s time is waning, there is still heat and muscle memory that seem to extend far beyond the human body:

          but remember the eclipse?
We stood facing each other,

 on that narrow path of totality, a new moon
          between us. Even then my corona

 streamed. And my returning flash, a perfect diamond.
            But who knows how long we can

 withstand the forces of this love?
           Some say it’s my death, but even then,

 stay with me, an exploding supernova.
         So bright, momentarily outshining

 the galaxy. Then, no light, just the pull
          of gravity. Still recognize me?

 Spiral in, my companion star.

Yet, there is poetry of the earth, of dirt, of death. In “Thunderstorm,” the narrator surmises before she dies that

After the rain,
everything rises: rocks are bared, seeds
visible. Snails stretch their necks,
are bold enough to cross
my path. The grass is vibrating,
birds feast on named worms. Everything
just under the surface, now exposed.

A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees
delivers poetry of heat, of flame, both scorching and freezing, of life, full and wanting, as in the promised title. Tanacea’s poems release emotional tension, exposes the hidden, explores what is forbidden and what will be remembered after the last page is read.

the wild tiger lilies are opening,

Tangled in the forsythia,
          just where the woods begin.

Kendra Tanacea is an attorney in San Francisco, holds a BA in English from Wellesley College and an MFA in writing and literature from Bennington College. A Filament Burns in Blue Degrees was a semifinalist for the Washington Prize for Poetry. Kendra’s poems have appeared in 5AM, Rattle, Moon City Review, The Coachella Review, Stickman Review, and Juked, among others. Visit her online at

Catherine Darby holds an MFA in Creative Writing and Performing Arts from the University of California Riverside, Palm Desert. Her work has been published in The Muse Strikes Back: A Poetic Response by Women to Men, The Temple, The Long Island Quarterly, The Sniper, The Salmon, San Diego Writers Ink Anthology, and 5×7: A New York Anthology. A Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference participant and an Italian-American Foundation grant recipient, she was an editor for Vox Populi Anthology/Seattle Poetry Festival and poetry editor for The Coachella Review. Darby, a freelance writer, and gallery owner, lives in San Diego.