Most modern poetry is what is called ‘free verse,’ which means it doesn’t rely upon metrical measure. Instead, modern poetry depends upon variable rhythm, which takes the place of definite meter. So in a sense, modern poetry is whatever the poet darn well wants it to be. Which, in turn, explains some of the mish-mash quality of contemporary poetry.
This is probably as good a place as any to define the term ‘modern poetry,’ as used by yours truly, the reviewer. Modern poetry is anything written in the last 15 years or so. Anything since the advent of You Tube, if you prefer cultural references.
Lots of modern poetry is nothing more than flash-fiction divided in bits and pieces. The bits and pieces are then arranged or grouped in rhythmic patterns. Voila! Poetry.
Real poetry is differentiated from so-called ‘flash-fiction poetry’ by the inclusion of those common literary devices that define real poetry. Assonance, and the abundant use of simile and metaphor. Alliteration, either of the concealed type or the more obvious type. Anadiplosis and anaphora provide cogency by way of effect, and sometimes, even acrostics are present. And paronomasia lightens thing up with a little humor.
These devices have one job. That job is to manufacture, enhance, develop, and depict images. Imagery is the genius of poetry.
Which brings us to Christopher Locke’s new book of poems, which is entitled End of American Magic. Yours truly – the reviewer – thought (and still does) the title was bland and tedious. However, happily, the poems are anything but bland and tedious, as Locke seems to have a lock on evoking images. His evocative tool is his choice of just the right words in just the right place.
For example, in ‘Slow Gravity.’
“But I stumbled
and gazed across the river,
(that wet belt of cream)….”
The likening of the moon’s reflection to a wet belt of cream opens a door in the reader’s mind. And as the door opens, the mind’s eye can see quite clearly a glistening band of whiteness splashed across the surface of the river. Four little words – “wet belt of cream” – give reality to something most people have seen yet couldn’t describe if they tried.
Of all the poems in End of American Magic, the reviewer’s favorite is ‘The Cigar Itself Does Not Know Its Own Pleasure.’ Just the title of the poem is enough to make you read it. About halfway through, the following line jumps of the page and thumps you in the chest.
“A man takes off his baseball
cap and wipes his face like
he’s greasing a pan.”
In technical terms, it’s an adverbial preposition introducing a simile. What it is in real terms is pure genius. The reader can feel (and see) the greasy sweat being smeared around because he/she has done the same things – used a paper towel to grease a pan and sluiced sweat off his/her forehead.
Those aren’t the only instances of Locke’s genius in End of American Magic. The book abounds with them. It’s a literal smorgasboard of magical images conjured by a truly original and very talented poet. One who writes real poetry and not just lofty prose fobbed off as poetry on unsuspecting readers.
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