Towne’s poetry constructs an intricate realm out of tiny parts.
The philosopher Zeno is often credited with articulating the paradox of the heap. One grain of sand isn’t a heap; two grains aren’t a heap. And yet somewhere between two and 10,000 grains, the thing we call a heap forms. Towne’s poems are like Zeno’s grains. They are quite small—seemingly insubstantial. Yet somewhere between the first and 50th poem, a paradoxical, beautiful heap forms. Though most of his poems aren’t haiku, many exhibit the haiku’s qualities: concise, forceful. And yet with these old tools, he makes strange new things. Take the poem “IV” in his collection, which reads simply, “Early frost / the purple plum / glass to touch.” Another, “XXXIX,” reads, “Her eye / strange paisley / lewd wink.” With such deft jabs, Towne reminds us of the startling power—and surprising depth—of a single image. At some level, these pictures—a cold fruit, a come-hither glance—are familiar. And yet there is a mystery here that draws us further in. For what is a glass plum? And what is a paisley eye? Throughout, Towne’s poetry feeds on such subtle enigmas. Elsewhere in the collection, the work expands; a later piece stretches languidly onto a second page, like an arm lazily extended. But even here, when Towne gives us 31 lines instead of three, he seems quite content to explore a single moment: “Her hand / set on the bar / palm up / a burning cigarette / in the relaxed curl / of the fingers / it was / 1:42 am.” And it is clear that neither the woman in the poem nor Towne himself is rushing anywhere. And once we fall under the spell of his verse, neither are we.
Well-cast, imaginative verse in short sets.