Reviews, Vol. 2.2, June 2008
Pudding House Publications, 2008
Staple-bound, 31 pp., $10
Review by Cynthia Reeser
The last line from John M. Valentine’s poem “One Thing at a Time” provides the book’s title, and the poem itself speaks to the inevitability of death. The universal fear of a force that swallows equally “the old oak,/ the lily,/ the child” are strong points in a poem that is marred by cliché. And in poetry, where space is precious and every word even more so, the slighest hint of cliché can ruin an entire work.
“Towards a Theory of the Poetry Teacher” succeeds in language, but fails in metaphor. This reviewer would be curious to know how many centuries writers, philosophers and teachers have put to use the metaphor of birds teaching their young to fly as a figure for instruction and achievement. But what the poem lacks in originality it makes up for with exceptional use of language, as with, “Quick trilling of the early songbird, trembling a summer limb.”
Other poems are not so fortunate. ” Fort Screven, Off-Season,” in spite of the near-rhyme in its lyrical title, discusses the “long denouement of despair,” rust, old homes and aging men. The work does have some nice moments, but ultimately dissolves into the self-pity of the aging. “Ponce de Leon” seems out of place, and is ill-fitting even to itself. Why a poem on Ponce de Leon? “A heron’s ghostly drift” works, but the work doesn’t tie in to possible contemporary tropes, such as the explorer’s legacy to present-day Florida.
The two stand-out works in Valentine’s volume are “Snow” and “Duplicity.” “Snow” is honest, authentic and employs viable metaphor: “A white dusting at first. Petal by petal,/ a dream of endless white flowers./ How bright the sky can be” is a tender descriptive for the onset of Alzheimer’s disease. “Duplicity” is humorously poignant and a joyful read: “Bless/ the carnies, the clowns, the smile of the Fat Lady. How/ the carnival’s brighter for their lies.”
Valentine has promise as a poet, and something to work toward.