GOING WITH THE FLOW by PETER SIEDLECKI
JENNIFER CAMPBELL Reviews
Going with the Flow by Peter Siedlecki
(BlazeVOX Books, New York, 2014)
Going with the Flow is a book addressed to anyone who has concern over his own “going.” A poet-philosopher studying aging from the inside-out, Peter Siedlecki explores the concept of old age in a vein similar to Plato’s dialectical method. Standout poems such as “Deciding to Retire,” “Child’s Play: A Retirement Poem,” and “On Receiving a Mailing from Forest Lawn” represent various iterations of the theme. There are moments of great humor, along with expressions of frustration and resignation. As in Plato’s Theory of Forms, the poems reveal the temporal in an attempt to understand the immutable archetypes that provide order and structure to the world. In the title poem, which is the first poem in the collection, Siedlecki offers the reader the first of many contradictions: is aging “a sad death of summer” that happens in gorgeous “blazes of color”? Inconsistencies are brought to light by the poet; the aging man wants “to connect to antiquity” yet concedes “I will die, and you will wail / and misremember me as perfect.”
Even as the poet leads the reader through his study with logic, he grants in “More Theology”:
We have reasoned god out,
with our “Thees” and “Thous”
only because reason is what we have
to turn into whatever we need,
the bricks and mortar
of which we build
the most absurd structures.
In fact, some poems are structured primarily from questions, in a modern Socratic method—“Untimely Death” is an effective example of this technique:
When is death timely?
when it comes like a chemical
to kill the hideous worm
devouring the victim from within?
Or when, in the midst of dark storms
and hideous worms, it comes to stifle
the dear memory of lilacs?
Preview Going With The Flow here
THE SPEED OF OUR LIVES by GRACE C. OCASIO
EILEEN TABIOS Engages
The Speed of our Lives by Grace C. Ocasio
(BlazeVOX Books, Kenmore, N.Y., 2014)
There’s a freshness to Grace C. Ocasio’s The Speed of our Lives—a freshness I see in other first books, and that I sometimes don’t see in the umpteenth collections by well-published poets. (I did confirm: while Ocasio previously released a chapbook, The Speed of our Lives is her first poetry book.) By "freshness," I mean a presentation of poems whose presence, I sense, were not determined by applied strictures, e.g. a project-based perspective, or a focus on a particular form.
The poems in The Speed of our Lives range over a wide variety of subjects and concerns, a range not hidden by its organization in four sections (entitled “Sheroes,” “She Revolutionary,” “Princes and Privates,” and “Patriots”). While the sections are certainly apt, I ended up not focusing on their categories so much as being moved to engage each individual poem on an individual basis. I believe this results from the strong story-telling impetus to each poem so that I reacted to each one based on its story instead of how it relates to other poems.
Nor does story need to unfold as narrative—for example, this list poem I found redolent, thus, enjoyed:
FATHER’S FAVORITE THINGS AND PEOPLE
Charlie Mingus’ albums
social tea biscuits
brown wool coat
books by Chester Himes
Brut After Shave Lotion
Cadillac Coupe de Ville
Harlem’s Better Crust Pie Bakery
New York Giants
James Van Der Zee’s photographs
books by John Hope Franklin
English Leather Cologne
Brooks Brothers gray and blue suits
sweet potato pie
New York Jets green cap
hog’s head cheese
When I look, thus, at The Speed of our Lives as not just a poetry collection but a collection of stories, I see the range of subjects. To quote one of the blurbers, Ann Deagon, there are “poems embracing myth, history ancient and modern, happenings worldwide and close to home, characters from many cultures. The first section alone focuses on Ruth and Naomi, Esther, Pocahontas, Anne Frank, Audrey Hepburn, Angela Davis, Michelle Obama, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, and Alondra de la Parra.” These poems are about something(s) or someone(s).
Preview The Speed of Our Lives
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I see many parallels between Susan Lewis’s This Visit and State of the Union, another book by Lewis that I read a few weeks ago. There is plenty of sharp and clever word play and rhyme. I also see a lot of influence coming from the school of Language Poetry and its poets. There is a distinct commentary on language itself, as the first poem in the collection, “My Life In Dogs”, has “language languishing.” For this and other reasons, This Visit reminded me of Charles Alexander’s book Pushing Water, which I reviewed in March of last year.
Many of the same themes are addressed in This Visit, as were addressed in State of the Union: there seemed to be a slight political bent, as well as a focus on the human condition, and even God and morality, in lines like,
They too must age, decay
& slowly quieten.
& can only live
more or less. & choose,
more or less.
& search furtively or not
for the nonexistent exit.
Later, “the grenade of your despair” is paired with doll heads littered on the floor, which is certainly an image that sticks with the reader.
Read The Whole Review here
Check out This Visit by Susan Lewis here
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