Thursday, July 02, 2009
I've been reading Alex Lemon's "Hallelujah Blackout" the last couple of days. It's good, but reads slightly disjointed. The range of styles Lemon uses (and has mastery of) is broad, but stacked next to one another in a text, the variations are often jarring. Before I go any further I want to emphasize that I really like every poem, it's their ordering that miffs me. For instance, Lemon writes some poems in an open, dreamy style where words and ideas are cross-hatched into a larger picture. Lemon also writes in wispy conversational style that could very well be your best friend describing his day. What becomes difficult is bouncing between these two (and other) styles, especially since the rules that the poems rely on change from one page to the next; empty space means one thing here and another over there, punctuation, capitalization, etc.
What this really got me thinking about, though, is the importance (too much?) I put on coherence within a manuscript. I like the idea of grouping similar poems into sections, or even writing poems with repeated ideas with the hope that a larger narrative emerges. My favorite examples of poets who do this are Matthew Rohrer, Mathias Svalina, Zachary Schomburg, Jack Spicer and Frank Stanford...each poem in their books is like another ingredient in a recipe; eggs, flour, sugar and butter...cake! And though in many cases the poems don't always look or feel like each other, there is always something tying one to the other, so that, when you finish the book, you are left with the feeling that you've read a book of poems and not a collection of poems.
Alex Lemon's book did not feel this way to me...in fact, it read a little more like samples of an Alex Lemon yet to come. So much so, that as we are perusing the poems, you almost need to stop and sniff a coffee bean between each one. Some of my favorite poems ever have been written by this man, so the jarring variety of styles was never too much to keep from carrying on, hoping that the next one might be a new favorite. But therein lies the problem, it became to easy to disregard the "book" and only focus on the poems...which maybe isn't a problem, I don' know.