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spacer.gif   JARED SMITH REVIEWS RICHARD JOHNS
Posted by : cj on Monday, December 06, 2004 - 11:27 AM
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Chicago Poetry Archives: Click Headlines 2000 POEMS: A Chapbook By Richard Johns

Review written by Jared Smith

2000 POEMS is a chapbook, filled with quick, short-line images and commentary that capture the author's year 2000. A handsomely printed bookmark that accompanies the work stands in interesting counterpoint to the length of this 14 poem volume, suggesting that the reader might need to mark favorite pieces to find them again. That's quirky, but it catches the attention.

As the poem inscribed on the bookmark notes, this is not front page stuff, surely / and nothing for the Nightly News. Rather, these are personal notes that reach out and grab at our attention. They are direct, shoot-from-the-belt images.

At their best, they very effectively build upon themselves to create living patterns out of the random nature of life. A fine example of this is seen in his translation of "The Elephant" from Portuguese author Carlos Drummond De Andrade, where the poet and his reader

fabricate an elephant
from what little I have.
A bit of wood
from old furniture
to shore him up perhaps
There's glue to keep
his pendulous ears in place.
His trunk curls up
it is the happiest part
of his architecture.

The elephant moves through the city, searching for friends and meaning, but with "bloated gut" which is "prone, at the slightest / push or shove, to fall apart." That is good, vivid writing and translation. The elephant continues to wander and grow until it is fully formed and stuffed with "forgiveness, caresses, / feathers, cotton" and all other leftovers of our world until the weary pain that builds up in it causes the glue that binds it to let go. A pattern rises from chaos, and then dissolves again with pain added. One may feel some disconnect between this elephant and the ones seen on National Geographic or in the zoo. I personally got involved in hours of discussion with various people over whether an elephant could ever be described as having "hooves," which this one does--but it is a fabricated elephant composed of what is at hand. And the images of life are what is at hand. Any image that makes a reader keep going back to the poem is good.

Richard John's original works in this chapbook are similarly sharply drawn. They are laid out quickly and either stay with you or go their own way. The short line-lengths lend themselves well to blues, as in his "Long One-Way Blues," where he seems in complete control:

This trip's on a one-way fare, stranger,
My trip's just a one-way affair.
Wherever it is that you're headed for, friend, I don't think I'm going there.

You can hear the music underlying the piece, and feel the cadence in the poet's voice. Bob Dylan's harmonica may be somewhere in the background there.

Short-line poems are not effective when line-breaks occur for no apparent reason, as happens in some of his works--capturing neither cadence nor image. This is a chance we all take with craft. In the end, it will come out in the wash with editing, or evolve into other works. Such is the nature of experimentation.

In "Hardy at the Laundromat," Johns notes:

In the end you must let go, forget the body,
Learn to leave it like your clothes crumpled on the floor,
Doffed and threadbare,
Whose attitudes are of the uttermost repose.
Yes, think of yourself as if you were just lying
Emptily there

That's a good poem.

--Review Written By Jared Smith



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