Looking for an Eye: Poetry by Peter Krok
Reviewed by Donald Riggs
Peter Krok is, in this collection, a genius loci, a spirit of the place. One reads his descriptions and narrations of incidents and characters in particular urban corners, some of them specifically identified, others easily applicable to any city or any small town, and one feels a sense of recognition.
This is, for example, very much the case with his snapshot of a street person in “Madonna.” Or in “The Bocce Players,” Krok captures the ambience of the old men, Italian immigrants, gathering for the afternoon game they brought with them from the old country, “caught in a frieze, a timeless chiaroscuro.” Or the homeless man pushing his shopping cart, appropriated from some supermarket parking lot, scavenging for objects of value to him like “some kind of mottled catfish,” both man and fish a version of the “Bottom Dweller.”
What Krok does in this collection is to find the supremely lyrical in the quotidian. In “10 PM at a Philadelphia Recreation Center” the very flat, purely objective title is followed by this Imagist vision:
Twilight combs the corners of roofs
with black distinctions; the ground
is dyed with silhouettes and shadows.
What the reader senses is that the visual leads into the philosophical here, as if the ending of the day leads directly into a meditation on the difference between the working day and the night of rest or recreation, between the night shift workers and their wives, between the huddled youths on park benches and their fathers. The poem ends with a very neighborhood-like allusion to the beings that inhabit the streets:
Night comes on.
Hours crawl like cats under fenders.
In “My City,” the poet sings a paean to that large urban area with its roots in the era of industrialization in all its energy and its uncouthness, addressing it “you disheveled beast” and describing it as “a glistening web / spun of several million expectations, / stranding a maze of worried rooms” and announces that it squats
on ribs of steel and stone
that stretch across the stark horizon
like muscled fiber to a carapace
that crawls across the decades.
The poet also travels from the city, naming memories of his alma mater, Ohio State, the Memorial Wall in Washington, D.C., driving to officers’ school in Kentucky, and evoking his ancestors’ home in Germany, but some of the excursions are recognizable as day-trips from Philadelphia, such as his album of impressions titled “Dodge Poetry Festival” in Stanhope, New Jersey, or this moment of passionate intensity, recalled, I imagine, in a moment of tranquillity:
Once I left my rage
on the boardwalk in Wildwood,
then stared at the ocean.
The collection is so specifically local that it attains a universality through that very focus. In “Returning” the poet addresses himself:
Always you return to these streets,
these red brick rows where you grew
from daydream adolescent to daydream father.
Perhaps genius loci, with the classical Latin pronunciation low-key, can suggest the vernacular in which much of this poetry is written. There are passages that evoke the “poetic,” such as in “Self-Portrait from a Third Person Angle,” where he recalls someone – perhaps the poet himself? – objecting to Joyce Carol Oates’s word choice that “did not fit the voice,” upon which the author’s “dark eyes...looked at him with chagrined civility.” However, this seems a deliberate departure from a more idiomatic diction.
However, I like to see, in addition, the genius Loki in this collection, the spirit of the Norse trickster god, that informs the poet’s description of ridding himself of a cricket chirping incessantly in his bedroom. He suppresses his initial impulse, which is to smash the bug, and catches it in a can, transports it outside. He concludes:
The Chinese claim
it’s bad luck to harm a cricket.
Besides, what kind of noisemaker
would you call me?
The final poem in the collection reaches out to the national consciousness that arose from the World Trade Towers’ destruction that has come to be known by the date on which it occurred, and here Krok takes the televised image familiar to so many millions of people, and he turns the experience into a very focused, localized, personal image. In “The Windows” his wife says they have to stop watching those images again and again on TV and clean the windows. He then launches into a consideration of the materials they use for the task, of the details of putting away the screens, and the brightness of windows that had not been cleaned for years. This one line sums it all up:
While the nation wept, we wiped windows.
Aside from the alliteration and the slant-rhymed “wept” and “wiped,” the description of that simple task carries with it so much more weight than a more ponderous enumeration of the details of that tragedy. It also describes people who have decided to move on with the business of life, and who then see more clearly for it.
Looking for an Eye is both a precisely local collection and, because of that, a universal one as well.
Krok, Peter. Looking for an Eye: Poetry by Peter Krok. Kanona, NY: FootHills, 2008. 74 pp.
© 2005-2008 Per Contra: The International Journal of the Arts, Literature and Ideas
Looking for an Eye: Poetry by Peter Krok Reviewed by Donald Riggs