Per Contra Reviews
These gnomic passages are sometimes sardonic: "If love is a horse, good luck saddling it" (from "A Small Space"); sometimes mysterious: "What occurs between breaths is a red herring" (from "Walking Unsure of Myself").
Amen's poems neither settle for an easy dismissal of difficult emotion, nor wallow in it, though the ground situation of the poems could easily allow for either. For example, the subject of one of the three poems from the "New York Memories" series is a visit to a "dead father's apartment" after the wrecking crew has arrived, and the subsequent years of other inhabitants, while "the revolving door of humanity spins."
In the last poem of the book's second section, "What I Said to Myself," the narrator gives himself what used to be called a good talking-to, urging a turn from dark subjects. The poem alternates between assertions and directives. For example, we have assertions, some about the narrator and some about poetry in general.
"The sex between you and grief is becoming mechanical.
Despite your vestigial sentiments to the
A scab's story is much greater than that of a scar."
"There is nothing particularly inspiring about a death wish."
And an imperative followed by a comment on literature in general:
"Attend a circus. Go for the comic. There
more mediocre than the association of genius with dysfunction."
The poem ends with a Whitman-like invitation, ironic in that it is, as the title notes, addressed to himself:
"Recommendation: study evergreens.
Find me. We have much to talk about."
Indeed, the poet of More of Me Disappears has much to talk about, not only with himself, but with his readers to whom he presents a universe where his metaphor and simile have transformed quotidian elements. His poems jolt us into revisiting our assumptions about the world. These poems not only show us the world, but force us to see the world as we have never seen it. For example, in "Playboy," one of five prose poems, "Darkness is swimming into the day, eating it in small, methodical bites." And in "Before I Leave" the "sun is yodeling."
These similes are characteristic of the long poem, "Vacillations," that begins the last section of the book. An epigraph from Chu Shu Chen (a Chinese female poet who wrote about 1200), "Tonight as always/ there is no one to share my thoughts," sets the mood of loneliness and isolation. But, of course, in the context of this book, that is a paradox; the reader is sharing the thoughts of the author of "Vacillations." Each of the fourteen sections is made up of three couplets. The eleventh of these is representative of the sensuous details and the startling comparisons of this and the many other poems that have both surreal and symbolist qualities.
"Cardinals are singing in lime-green
the sun is fading like a child abducted by a stranger.
I cannot make the necessary phone calls
I can only watch the wind rub its palm across the lake.
The swollen gardenia is crying; the serpent
bitten the dove. Doubt avalanches like a truckload of coal."
The book's title is in the last section of "Vacillations":
"I am grateful for all the green in our
Ivy wraps around gravestones. Lyrics flow
like lamb's blood. Leaves are quaking on
Each day more of me disappears.
I have no need to doctor the withered fig
The wheat is full, and crickets revel outside my window."
John Amen's first book of poetry, Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press, 2003), was nominated for several awards, including the Kate Tufts Award, the Lenore Marshall Award and the Brockman-Campbell Prize. He also writes fiction and is a songwriter and musician. He founded and edits the award winning bimonthly, The Pedestal Magazine.
The opening lines of this book and the last serve as brackets. The first lines introduce a theme: "Without warning/ the river runs dry, its spine/ as glutted and spineless as any morgue." The last poem of the book, "Before I Leave," concludes "Shalom. Halleluiah. May your armageddons be fruitful." To which we respond, "Thank you, Amen."
John Amen, More of Me Disappears, Merrick, New York: Cross-Cultural Communications Edition, 2005. 79 pages, $12.00