Words and images sing duets in this debut illustrated poetry collection.
Sumich appears to be aware of the power of poetic form—the idea that the rules that poets adopt, such as specific lengths, meters, and rhyme schemes, don’t stifle their creativity but rather enhance it. He adopts a restrictive structure in his new book, as every poem is made up of three rhyming quatrains. He describes this strategy in the introduction: “This simple constraint led me to select my words with the utmost care, paying a great deal of attention to their impact and imagery.” This pays dividends in the collection’s strongest entries. Here, for example, is the middle stanza in “Iconic,” a poem about the drunken rush of new passion: “Do I? Do you? Are we confused? / Does this garden have no room? / The sprout of passion is just a bud, / But buds will die without their bloom.” The diction and the rhyme here are simple without being simplistic, and the author does a fine job of artfully weaving a floral theme through the poem’s warp. At other times, however, Sumich’s form can feel more like a straightjacket, especially when all four lines in each stanza rhyme, as in the middle block of “Not It”: “You are not me, and I am not you. / So what do I know of you to be true? / Is it your hue, your thoughts or your view? / How can I answer? What should I do?” Here, the “oo” rhyme repeats one time too many, and the verse starts to feel elementary. Yet these occasional lapses are never too distracting, especially given the fact that every other page of the volume features a Sumich-created illustration inspired by the accompanying verse. These designs are by turns surreal, arresting, and alluring, and they provide an appropriate countermelody to the author’s poetry.
Form is function in this often moving, carefully structured compendium of poems and pictures.