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Book Review: Cheating on the Metronome, New Verse by Scott Bourne

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It appears Cupid’s arrows have been laced with oxytocin and vasopressin all along. It is what I imagine after reading a report in the New York Times by the neuroscientist Dr. Larry Young. Martial bliss of any kind can be a wonderful thing apparently if you’re with the right person, and have the right drugs.

Oxytocin is a hormone released naturally in fertile mammals, or in the case of Dr. Young’s research, in prairie voles, occurring naturally “during labor, delivery and nursing” aiding in mother-child bonding and also to one’s mate.  Vassopressin on the other hand, stimulates the desire for nesting and bonding (released typically during sex and in some cases when injected artificially) which is found in male prairie voles.  All this research has led Dr. Young to imagine a drug one day in the not too distant future that would enable humans to “fall in love” as easily as getting a yearly booster shot.  Unfortunately until then, love in all its mysterious apparitions, joys, break-ups, and expressions will be found in poems and at the cinema.  Read the article here to learn more about love’s evolution.

Cover bookThis leads us to Scott Bourne.  From his bio we learn he was born in North Carolina, is an avid voyager, a professional skateboarder, and was a columnist for SLAP Magazine.  He’s a poet, writer, and one time inhabitant of Mongolia where he chronicled his adventures there into his book Dirt Ollies.  Adding to this are his travels on the Trans Siberian Railroad and more recently, as a novelist, publishing his first book entitled A Room with No Windows.  He currently splits his time between the City of Lights and the City by the Bay.  He is a vagabond of the heart and road, a lover who has been loved by women and loved many more in return.  Wanderlust can be very seductive, for some of us it means we simply cannot sit still; for others it is to escape (something).  For Bourne, suffering from what he described as “a wicked mean case of heartbreak,” wanderlust sent him to France.  The end result is Cheating on the Metronome.

Published last year by Work in Progress GmbH and carhartt, Cheating on the Metronome composes and plays for the reader a brooding melody of love conquered and then lost in a heart-wrenching anthology of verse, texts, and poems of what is left of that heartbreak, and the residual black stained memory.  Samuel Butler may have felt “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have lost at all,” but Butler never realized there are no winners in love’s trial by fire, only those conquered and left for dead, leaving a trail of broken hearts behind and warning signs never heeded.

Helas, until Dr. Young perfects a love potion or something to prevent love’s side effects, we will continue to take risks and gamble on the one we love – at any cost.  No one knows this better than Bourne in his poem entitled Convince Me:

I use people and let myself be used
Because I want to know
What life is composed of
If it is not passion
Let it be lies
But let them be convincing

However, "convince" may not be exactly what Cheating on the Metronome does, unfortunately.  There are parts that remain powerful and moving, but I believe you must be somehow experiencing the same confusing emotions, a similar broken heart, to understand someone else’s heartache.  Misery, as you know, loves company.  Bourne’s somewhat stylized vocabulary and expressions are unable to support or convey the weight of his feelings, which reduce the impact of those emotions on the reader.  And while I feel a deep empathy for Bourne’s trials and tribulations, there’s something, well, missing.  The words may flow effortlessly across the page, precise and clear, sometimes shouting, sometimes callous, brutal, and tragically funny, but the beating heart of the poem remains a bit still, at times generic, distant, like a chance encounter with a stranger with no fluttering in his chest.  It makes it difficult to find a connection between his joy and pain and say, for example, my own experiences. 

In all fairness, Bourne undoubtedly has a daunting task before him; the thousands, the millions of poems and treatises on love written throughout our history have made it difficult to hear any voice, let alone Bourne’s, make sense of it all.  Perhaps it isn’t important for him to convince me or anyone else, perhaps his uniqueness lies simply in the fact that he expressed the loss he feels.  Art will always remain a personal expression so long as it does not become universally understood.  Is there some amount of solace in knowing this?

I much prefer Bourne’s voice in a poem entitled, “A Hard to Get Kinda Poem.”  Here's a sampling: 

It was a hard to get kinda poem
Which meant
You had to go through it
To get it
Long nights
With no reply
Sleepless nights
Awake in a bed but dead
Waiting in the grave
For the soil
To cover your face
A hole you can not crawl from
Some call it love
But to me
It was a hard to get kinda poem
It rides down the street on a
Ten speed with the bars turned up
It has no brakes
No mistakes
Looks good on the boulevard
But just won’t stop for the lights
Moves off along the block
Till it meets with a swift collision
A bad decision
And like a satellite falling from the heavens
It comes back to the earth
It was a hard to get kinda poem

Cheating on the Metronome can be read as a personal journey through a particularly difficult moment in time.  In essence it's an autobiography, recorded “live” line by line – generally “without corrections,” like the tic toc of the metronome, back and forth, side to side, keeping the beat and rhythm of Bourne’s life. Or, as he describes it, keeping track as “the expiring clock, the coffin calling, the inescapable dance with death.” 

Cheating on the Metronome can be ordered through Spacejunk Gallery in France, bound in luscious black leather, gilded pages, and a gold monogram of a metronome on the cover, recalling the Transamerica Pyramid building in San Francisco and the Eiffel Tower in Paris – Bourne’s adopted home(s) away from home.  It is filled with emotion and words that make poetry.  Believe it for yourself.

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About Kevin Freitas