Lie Down Too, Lesle Lewis (62pp, $16.95, Alice James)
Ian Pindar (83pp, £9.95, Carcanet)
begin by quoting from Lesle Lewis' poem 'I'll Laugh when I'm Ready' as a
means of trying to explain something underlying in lie down too: 'Lately I've been tortured
by these abstractions when really they are only doors with knobs on the wrong
side.' If we allow the 55 poems that make up lie down too to represent these
abstractions-turned-doors, then we're left with nearly 55 knobs that we, as
readers, have trouble reaching. Nearly.
Some of Lewis' poems get the job done, no questions asked. Here is 'Aretha
and Giacometti' in its entirety:
stands just so to get that slice of morning glow.
You remove a
horsefly from your coffee.
It's a short
life so full of insects.
When you say,
'Look at that,' I look at the same time.
Within those lines is a condensed version of what makes parts of lie down too so enjoyable. The imagery
isn't overwritten. The narrator has a curious eye, but a quiet tongue. And
the ending somehow creates a rubber band ball out of one rubber band. 'Aretha
and Giacometti' is, however, one of the few exceptions to lie down too's rule. Most of the poems
read too quickly, which is less of an issue by itself, but when combined with
the fact that most also don't linger after being read, the book ends up being
fun in the moment only.
Lewis' quick style certainly favors the poems with shorter stanzas, rather
than the longer prose-poems. In these poems, she almost always has one
sentence stand as a full stanza, allowing for successive scenes for the
reader to contemplate, but with considerate pauses:
At the quarry
floating, a big dead bear belly down.
What did he
think before he died?
difficulty of access to the unconscious is its only defining feature?
We call Fish
and Game and Fish and Game won't come.
You enter the
have been all wrong up until now.
is small enough for the work you do in your life on the planet.
trying to be me sleeping on my side of the bed after all these years?
['I See My Categories Have Been All Wrong up Until Now']
These read swiftly and purposefully. And this is not to say that the longer
poems lack that same kind of purpose. The author's mastery over the one-liner
often benefits her in those poems as well, such as with 'April Afternoons':
'They thought we were saying the candy machine on the third floor was broken,
but we were saying our girlfriends have left us and our hearts are broken.'
What prevents those kinds of poems from elevating to the level of the shorter
works is that they use the same style of hard imagery, but disallow the
stanza breaks that make reading the shorter poems easier. Thus, the reader
will often be referring back because of the feeling of having missed
To give it the credit it deserves, lie down too is often intensely hilarious and
thoughtful. But with a $16.95 price tag and pages that sometimes seem more
anecdotal than poetic after the book's been shut, it's hard to say for
certain that readers will think it worth the purchase (even with such a fantastic
design by Alice James Books).
Pindar's Emporium is also worth a moment of
your consideration. The beginning of John Ashbery's quote on the back cover
claims that 'It was about time for somebody to be channeling Eliot,' and I
couldn't agree more.
Pindar literally breathes life into stale and gimmicky forms. 'Les Vacances de
Monsieur P.' is
a sestina. 'Les
Vacances de Monsieur P.'
is a poem that I don't hate. These two sentences next to each other amaze me.
Any writer of poetry will tell you how difficult it is to write even just a
mildly successful sestina, and Pindar shows us how it's done while using
ambitious end-words in 'affection' and 'remainder' without making us want to
gouge our own eyes out at regular intervals. Form enhancing content is a
common occurrence in Emporium, and it makes the Eliot
And yet the eternal question arises: what the hell? Amidst Pindar's careful
construction is sometimes a voice planted embarrassingly on a massive
And the monarch
is above the law
and the Privy
Council shrouded in mystery
keeper of the monarchy the BBC
royal wedding is a funeral
elected representatives reprimanded
mentioning the monarch in the House
wave flags and worship
wave flags and worship
a phantom at
the rotten core
of our botched democracy.
[from 'The King's Evil']
Men of action, irrational,
intellect: all dissent
and betrayal death.
Fear difference: the enemy
you are weak
you will die,
as Nature intended.
[from 'Society of Blood']
I couldn't shake the feeling that I was being lectured to at various points
in Emporium, which was so surprising
considering how great some of the other poems are. The opening poem, for
instance, begins the collection with such creepy energy:
turning, seeking rest,
arms and legs
like a puppet
examining its joints.
moving from side to side
as if struck
by invisible fists
different angles, from inside
[from 'Figure Study']
The good thing is that the over-the-top-finger-waving moments don't bog the
collection down. It's just merely interesting and confusing to experience
those moments when they do happen. Emporium could have easily been pared and been a better book. It
emanates creativity, at one point joining lines of over one hundred poets,
from Langland to Chernoff, in a poetic 'Chain Letter,' as it's titled. This
kind of experimentation stands as its main charm and makes it worth reading
and re-reading. And as this is Pindar's first collection, I'm already excited
to see what he comes up with in his follow-up. Hopefully, though, he'll have
made his political opinions more seamlessly integrated into the poetry, which
he has such a natural connection with, whether it's echoing the storytelling
brilliance of a peak-performance Tennyson in 'Big Bumperton on the Sabbath' or using rhyme and form in
the most contemporary of fashions:
marriage collapsed like an old barn.
The crash of
it silenced the saloon-bar chatter
like the cry
of a newborn.
expected to stumble and shatter
fumbled glass, or drown
strangers in a bar.
days, the curtains drawn,
Pernod on tap
but no beer,
emerald green and gold
you hid away
from the world,
certain you had failed.
dropped away with the years
people you knew.
The son you
stopped talking to cried real tears
funeral, but not for you.
['An Accident in Soho']
Sean Colletti 2011