Reviews, Vol. 3.3, Sept. 2009
The Poetry Press of Press Americana, 2009
Paperback, 136 pp., $15
Review by Cynthia Reeser
Howie Good, journalism professor and author of eight poetry chapbooks, including The Torturer’s Horse and Love is a UFO, debuts his first full-length collection, Lovesick. The first poem in the collection, “A Note to Readers,” is a direct message to the purveyor of the book: “Don’t look here for ideas, / there are no ideas here.” What the collection offers instead, Good intimates, are the author’s observations, fears, and memories, “dark slashes of rain, / and scavenger birds.”
What follows after such a precursor is the gradual revelation of the burden of poetry, of the poet, and of language, where the burden often takes the form of love and an imagined world without it. The poems that follow take up the task, to which poets are permitted, and sometimes expected, of visioning alternates and possibilities. In “The News at 11,” Good writes of the world, that it “is a rifle butt / smashed in your face” but then posits:
What if our hearts weren’t
such paper-thin bags
of blood and vomit
what if they were shiny
like the water-bright coats
of prancing red horses
There is reality, and there are possibilities, and Good’s vision presents such dichotomies throughout. And why not in a book titled “Lovesick”? Lovesickness is a bifurcate state. The book, divided into five parts, presents poems that are sometimes nightmarish landscapes and alternate realities snared from unhinged dreams, especially those in Part 2, “A Tiny Fugue for Tomorrowland,” and throughout, poems that are sometimes tender celebrations of love. Other dreamscapes are wonderfully imaginative, like “The Heart Breaks Down Like a Mechanical Device,” which reads in part,
[…] there’s the fire to strum and the Bureau of Weights and Measures to contact. My wife won’t be any help. She’s hiding in our bedroom, embarrassed that we have grown children. I pat my pockets as if searching for cigarettes, or, if not cigarettes, symptoms.
The title poem, and many that follow, end with an unexpected poignancy: “America, America” with the imagistic couplet, “God dangling from a broken pulley / and the stars turning black.” Many capture the aching intangibility of unidentifiable heartsickness, cousin to the sehnsucht (heavy longing, untranslatable) to which C. S. Lewis returns so often in his writing. In “At the Edge of History,” Good writes of an “unspecified heartache” and in “The Gull,” of “the scab on my heart” and “a moment like any other / too anonymous to be poetry / and too grievous not to be.” Poignancy sometimes comes in beautiful moments, like in “Aria for My Daughter,” and “At the New England Holocaust Museum,” whose “young orphans with old faces” lie forever “safe under Plexiglas.” One such notable piece, nearly a love song, is “Autumn Sonata.” Mad, inexplicable things occur in the world, without reason, defying logic, but:
I shed my coat on the ground
and lie down beside her,
as we curl gratefully into each other,
what is real is whatever is
faded or broken or falling.
Good’s imagination is that of a poet’s: whatever has come before or whatever is wrong in the world, no matter the delirium of nightmares, the poet’s provenance is that of an alternate vision, an alternate version, to the madness of reality and everyday life. And what is reality but an endless parade of bifurcated vision, of senseless dichotomy in a world where intense love is felt as sickness.