Last Ride, Abraham Smith (Forklift, Ink. 2010)
Abraham Smith’s chapbook Last Ride presents readers with a curious combination of form and genre: a chapbook—miniaturized, focused—inside which one long, sprawling poem dwells. Unpunctuated and without stanza breaks, Last Ride reads like an interstate drive without directions. Each line speaks to the other, with characters and images as ready signposts, yet the poem’s speaker dwells so far inside himself that the road to understanding falls just out of view. This lends the chapbook a feel of adventure and discovery: an emotionally driven look at a fast world passing.
The poem’s speaker, held captive by anticipatory fear, inhabits a space of constant observation. What he learns and sees, the reader receives in quick enjambment: “70 when you ain’t yet 30 / and the light like egg whites troublin’ over clay” opens the poem, revealing a speaker aware of the bodily tolls of work and time. “mother may i re-up on the womb[,]” he asks soon after, “for this world is a hungered world / and there’s paper crane carrion / all over the moon.”
In this continuous, rambling structure, it’s hard to eke out a continuous narrative or assert the presence of a faithfully appearing character. Instead, Smith relies on image, sound and speed to propel us through the poem’s scenes. Last Ride is meant to be consumed whole, with no small poem to dog-ear for a break or quiet place to pause for the night. While the speaker’s voice can feel more like obfuscation than enlightenment, Smith’s eye for the gorgeous and devastating image impels these poems forward.
Climate Reply, Trey Moody (New Michigan Press 2010)
In Climate Reply, Trey Moody tries to create an insular space in which the poems can live and rub off on one another, and he manages to do so in about half of the poems. The rest distract the reader from the more interesting mood and tone.
The first poem, “What We First Said,” is inviting. It doesn’t open with a bang, but the last lines give way to a quasi-metaphysical pause: “In the history of human suffering,/ this must be what we meant:// an eye or an ear,/ replaced with hard clay, or a plum.” Later, the title poem appears, and that too is wonderful, using the words “Weather as if” as prefix to about half of the lines. There are beauty and meaning in such repetition, which lure the reader into that insular place mentioned above.
However, that place is punctured by the “Dear Ghosts” poems. The poem set attempts to portray (ghostly?) domestic situations, but ultimately falls short, detracting from the bigger climate metaphor the other poems are working hard to instate. The “Dear Ghosts” poems almost pull away from the chapbook; both these and the other poems would have benefited from the “ghosts” having their own space.
Other poems in Climate Reply do work together. “This Forest Isn’t a Room” begins, “ The trees are always laughing down on you,” and continues, “ Their trunks don’ t shake when they laugh, you notice./ You cannot remember what your body does// but you believe your body’ s not a tree, a tree not a body.” This speaks nicely to the poem “One Question” which ends with the question, “When the weather’s right, Lord,/ will I grow from the ground like a tree?”–which in turn complements “Birdsong,” and its line, “ The song was guidance, even if the pines were aware, sharing our ears.” Continuity and well-constructed lines speak to the over-arching concept of Climate Reply: how the weather, and the life out in the weather, respond to the poet’ s (and the reader’ s) conscious and unconscious questions.
Disappears in the Rain, Matthew Thorburn (Parlor City Press 2009)
Matthew Thorburn’s Disappears in the Rain won The Broome Review 2009 Chapbook Competition. The chapbook contains 20 pages of poetry, all segments of the one long poem, “Disappears in the Rain.”
The speaker finds himself somewhere near Mount Fuji with his significant other, Lily, and perhaps because the speaker travels with his partner, some of Thorburn’s lines succumb to schmaltz. From page ten: “and the day unrolls like a paper scroll / spooling out birds trees rivers flowers you.”
In the opening segment, the narrator familiarizes his audience with his surroundings. He notes that “everyone sleeps on the floor,” and that breakfast is “steamed rice / and tofu soup, a pink wedge / of salmon, miscellaneous pickles.” The first page sets the scene, and the scenes throughout the book are nice, but Thorburn’s phrasing sometimes distracts from the imagery. For example, he writes, “socks or bare feet / get you to bed.” But the socks cannot “get” one anywhere. The socks are along for the ride.
However, the vacant footwear found at various entryways oddly intrigues and haunts:
a pair of slippers
outside the bathroom door—
come back later
The slippers indicate that the bathroom is occupied, but they also leave the reader with a ghost-like presence.
Other images aren’t as effective, and Thorburn’s ability to refresh some clichés is inconsistent. He writes, “the cat / revs his engine / at her touch.” These lines don’t capitalize on the cat’s purring. In other places, though, Thorburn renews common poetic images, as on page 15: “the water shows pieces of sky / to the sky.” And from page 26: “our t-shirts stuck to our backs / like licked stamps.”
Such images are memorable, but as a solitary unit, Disappears in the Rain is ultinmately isolated and vulnerable.