Poetry for Southern California
MY BEARD SUPPORTS NOTHING
Chapbook by Zachary Locklin
Weekly Weird Monthly (www.weeklyweirdmonthly.com)
Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas
Zachary Locklin’s chapbook, My Beard Supports Nothing, is subtitled The Facebook Poems. These poems were originally published as Facebook posts. Moreover, they capture the feel of Facebook. Or what Facebook would be like if everyone there was this clever, and this snarky.
The poems cover the usual gamut of Facebook topics -- that is, mostly commentary on Locklin’s life, with some occasional politics and popular culture thrown in. In this case, that means writing, teaching, and the birth of Locklin’s first child.
Like the best Facebook posts, they are, mostly, short and to the point:
When You’re a Teacher
and professional anxiety
are pretty much the same thing.
Apparently I’ve Been Doing It Wrong
My students tell me
that illegal music downloading
should be legal
and everyone should have
free access to art
because art doesn’t cost anything
As is also common on Facebook, a certain misanthropic streak often rears its head:
I Thought We Had Academic Freedom
One time, years and years ago,
one of my students tried to tell me
that Madonna was more important
than David Bowie
because she had never heard
of David Bowie.
And there was nothing I
could do about it
because we’re not supposed
to hit our students.
Locklin is often at his best when he is poking fun at Facebook, either directly:
are a lot like facebook.
Nothing is happening
and everybody is really angry.
or indirectly, like “Agree to Disagree 2” which concerns much of the discussions which go on on Facebook: “we get really really upset/ about these things/ people we’ve never met/ have done to other people/ we will never meet.” Or the title poem, which only makes sense if you are familiar with the Facebook meme of “No-Shave November.”
All this leads to a certain meta-quality to the book. Locklin is commenting, on Facebook, about Facebook phenomena in a manner that satirizes the style of Facebook. Like Facebook, you can take these poems as lightly or as seriously as you care to. Myself, I would take them lightly. But the true Facebook thing to do would be to get very offended by them.
Book by Bruce Willard
Four Way Books
Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas
Holding Ground, by Bruce Willard, demonstrates the power of minimalist poetry. It shows how a carefully chosen image or two can be all you need to create meaningful poems. Sometimes you don’t need to say it all to say something powerful.
Take the poem “Divorce”:
There was a dry, simple thinness
to the air. An archipelago
made off to the south --
the debris of continental drift.
Everything was said
in three or four ways.
Every goddamned thing done.
Just the word remained. Like an island
the morning after a cold front has passed.
There it is, the image of an island after a storm, telling us all we need to know about the divorce.
Similarly, the poem “Astronomy” uses the image of an eclipse to describe a relationship: “We’ve traded positions. You, gaining speed/ with distance. Me, finding weight// in the shadow of your passing.”
Relationships are one of Willard’s primary concerns, especially the many ways in which we fail to connect. “Family Portrait” describes the author’s relationship with his brother through their positioning in a photograph. “I was close to my brother/ but not as close as I wanted to be.” “Holding Ground” uses the search for a harbor while sailing in the fog to illustrate a relationship holding together, but barely.
This poem also includes two metaphors which recur throughout the book -- landscapes, especially islands, and the weather. To vastly simplify the symbolism, the landscape represents consistency, the weather change. There is the island, and the storm which buffets it. Variations on these images occur throughout the book. Yet Willard is a deft enough writer that each appearance feels fresh, is appropriate to the context of the individual poem.
There is a progression, a development through the book. The early poems often focus on one or the other (landscape or weather). He locates himself, then brings weather in. Then he gradually introduces people into the scene. The later poems are more complex; single images become multiple.
A recurring theme is our inability to fully communicate. It is ironic, yet fully appropriate, to use poetry, the most open-ended literary form, to demonstrate how difficult it can be to say what you mean. It is especially appropriate here, where Willard uses a bare minimum of words to make his points. The line, “All day I have been trying to say something/ about something without talking/ about the thing itself” from “Intimate,” could be a definition of poetry.
Similar lines come up repeatedly throughout the book. “I call frequently/ but talk less each month/.... think comma/ when you think of me// listen/ for the space between” (“Nothing Becomes Me”) “You can talk to me now, she said./ The windows were open and I heard/ the whine of traffic stop and the clang/ of a bell which meant a bridge was closing.” (“Island”). “I spoke but the wind took my words.” (“In Other Words”).
In the end, he does get his point(s) across, at least to the reader, imparting a deep understanding of the many ways humans do and don’t connect. All through poetry that, in the end, never fails to connect.