A shape-shifting debut poetry collection by Pavlakis.
This book opens by asking fallen soldiers to “Come up, boys. / Come up from your moldy graves.” From there, readers begin to ride the fast current of the author’s poetry. Alternating between traditional verse, heaped lines, and poetic structures that recall those in the famous avant-garde poetry magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, the author’s poems have a dynamism that’s similar to that of poet Ron Silliman’s The New Sentence. But although the poems propel readers forward, they never really arrive at a destination. The text is riddled with too many clichés—so many that it feels intentional—such as “Now is the ever-present / that is never done. / Now is a piece of always” or “Is a lifetime just that—a life of time?” Although the platitudes run freely, readers will continue on, ambling toward nowhere—deeper into the mind of the speaker, who never shines through the force of his poesis. Indeed, poesis is lacking here—particularly one that would use these formal experimentations to create something other than what contemporary conceptual poetry has already given us. For instance, “Know What I Mean?” emulates Stéphane Mallarmé’s A Throw of the Dice without using any of the white space of the opposite page as a canvas, and in “Wholeness,” the line breaks are just as jarring as they would be in a Robert Creeley poem but never quite slap like a contemporary reader may expect them to do. In another instance, Pavlakis shows a compelling interest in narratological concerns: “the poet walks his unshaped thoughts / down dim, deserted idea drive / turns right on word avenue / passes weedy vacant lots / comes stunned / to dead end.” Thus the author puts a Joycean Leopold Bloom before the reader, moving on to a different linguistic field, but he never does anything with it. Readers are left hanging, waiting for some bold, loud, and syntactically irreverent linguistic matter to arrive. Overall, the poet has done an intriguing job of juxtaposing various forms of contemporary poetry, but he never allows himself to go the extra mile.
A compelling set of poems that would benefit from less rigid experimentation.
A complex work of poetry about seeking one’s rightful place in the world.
Poets have long used the topics of arrival and departure to explore feelings of belonging. In this debut book, Dutt gives us a glimpse into what a foreigner’s arrival to the United States looks like: “how to then shed this skin / wrapped since youth / how to speak American / when we arrive / without our imagination / to bring down bodies.” This sense of displacement festers in this book, which effectively presents a portrait of a family lost between two cultures and two generations: “We can’t talk / about what we did how sometimes it’s different / from the way it’s shown but they think they know / and we can’t tell them we can’t even tell each / other.” The family systematically struggles with preconceived notions that some Americans have about the Indian population. This subject matter is nothing new, especially in the modern era, but thankfully, Dutt’s collection is a productive contribution to a conversation about inclusion and tolerance and not a rehashing of stereotypical attitudes. Despite the tumult of arrival in a new place, daily life is shown to function as prosaically as it did before. In “Over Cider and Whiskey in Hotel Rooms,” the speaker compares the generational gap that exists between her and a figure who appears to be her son. The poem builds as the stakes get higher, though it ends on a small instance of everyday life: “we’d be so annoyed / when someone would slap the car / to pass and cross // we’d all have to get out / and check.” It’s these moments, when the poems seep through the speaker’s humanism, that make the collection so gripping. And at times, Dutt takes readers by surprise with tragically poetic stanzas: “all those stones / go home to your country / my country? / where we are on any map.”
An exciting poetic work that lives up to its emotional and linguistic potential.
Callen (Running Out of Footprints, 2013) offers a quaint, playful collection of poetry and prose that spans nearly 50 years of her life.
The creation of “I Love You, Sun,” the first poem in this book, dates back to 1967; the closing poem, “Galaxy Girls,” was written last year. In between are 39 other pieces about nature, love, and the absurdities of Callen’s long life.Her descriptions of nature are filled with wonder and delight: “On a clear night…the stars hung rich and heavy over us, and it felt like we could reach out and touch heaven,” she writes about the Alaskan sky; in “Come Into Life With Me,” she urges readers to “Stand wild in the pulsing rain / and know the strength of its wetness.” Love is also a major theme, both romantic and platonic. In “Puzzle,” she’s intrigued by an unnamed someone, “And, fan that I am of wholeness / I grab you up in little gifted pieces / and turn you around and around / against the straight edges of my brain.” Callen is a talented storyteller who recounts many different scenes with wit and humor. In “Blue Moon Baby,” for example, an acquaintance details his daughter’s birth and the burying of the placenta: “He finally ran out of words, like a tightly spun top that finally came to rest,” Callen writes. In “A Wonderful Fantasy,” the author works herself into a tizzy anticipating an old boyfriend’s overnight stay, which ends in disappointment. “Never Enough” tells of Callen’s family as they struggle to calculate how big a batch of mashed potatoes will be required to satiate holiday guests. Only two pieces seem out of place in this collection: the grim “Time Twister,” which details the 1966 Tower killings at the University of Texas at Austin, and “Mom Visits,” an imagined reunion between the author and her late mother.