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spacer.gif   TOP DOG: RON OFFEN
Posted by : cj on Thursday, September 20, 2007 - 01:09 PM
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Chicago Poetry Reviews: Click Headlines .
Off-Target
by Ron Offen and William Anthony
d'cypher press
Reviewed by C. J. Laity


Poet Ron Offen is the editor of Free Lunch, A Poetry Miscellany which has been published since 1989. He received a Master's from the University of Chicago and Off-Target is his fifth book of poetry. William Anthony is a graduate of Yale and his artwork has appeared in the Art Institute of Chicago. Off-Target is a short chapbook that features twelve poems by Offen next to eleven drawings by Anthony, all of which are displayed in text boxes. According to the press release: "Over the course of some years, each created a work in response to that of his fellow collaborator. Thus, a drawing would sometimes be the impetus for a poem, and at other times a poem would inspire a drawing." With all that academic credit behind these artists, you might expect something that takes itself too seriously. Well, that is certainly not the case here. This is about the goofiest little novelty of a book ever to come out of Chicagoland, and if it does anything for you it will put a smile on your face. A quote from the back of Off-Target by Joseph Masheck describes Anthony's Simpson-esque drawings best: "He draws like an intelligent but bored kid in the back row who is not paying attention." Offen's corresponding flash of wit, whether it be a rhyming poem about a perfume ad or a simple bit of common sense, is just as absurd. The poetry in this book is unsympathetic, but most comedy is.

There are two ways you can read this book. The first is with the book spread wide open, with both even and odd pages in view so that you can compare the poems to the drawings and vise versa. This way of reading it makes the work appear the most quirky, as the poems and images parallel each other quite literally. However, if you would rather find a deeper side to this book, you can read it by folding the even page over so that the drawing is not visible, then read the poem by itself and try to figure out the riddle of it, and then look at the drawing to see how it compares to what your mind's eye drew up for you. If you read this book the second way, you will find completely different meanings in the poems than you do when you let the drawings influence you. Without the influence of the drawings, subtle mysteries surface and ambiguous metaphors dominate. Without the accompanying drawing, the poem "Kisses" could be a poem about a cup of coffee:

Those first few seemed as if
I'd merely sipped your lips,
then, this one—your mouth parted
slightly and I drank
you in—pure caffeine,
likely to keep me awake all night.


Reading the nonsensical poem "Here She Comes" without looking at the drawing, one might wonder if Offen isn't talking about a woman with a flatulence problem trying to go to the bathroom. Reading the poem "Answers" without the drawing poses some questions, like what does the white rose symbolize? When I read "Untitled", however, I wondered if the imagery (such as "Summer had tossed a salad / of its greens into the air") was creating a Garden of Eden metaphor, and then when I looked at the goofy picture, it indeed represented Adam and Eve. Overall, the flaky poems standing alone make you think but often to no satisfactory end, until you look at the drawing it represents or that represents it. Either way you read the poems, however, they are quite funny in an ultra-simplistic way.

The first poem in this book, the one that begins with the sentence "You are forewarned" doesn't have an accompanying drawing, and it represents Ron Offen at his silliest. In it he makes light of death and he continues to do so on many occasions throughout the book.

There are some well-constructed images in this book, such as this description of a crow:

that the call call call
on her licorice tongue
says she will steal all


and there are also some very original thoughts, such as:

when romance was as serious
as one's first Monopoly game,


(from "Uncle Jack Recollects")

but due to the brevity of this book, these moments of insight are very few. The white space in this book does serve a purpose, but there is no doubt a lot of it. My main gripe about this book is that it is simply too short. It is over before you barely begin reading it. It's not that it leaves me wanting more; instead it leaves me feeling a little gypped. The same thing, but about four times as much, would have been much better.

--CJ Laity

Off-Target is published by

d'cypher press
941 Pleasant Lane
Glenview, Illinois 60025




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Note: Here is a review of Ron Offen's book, Off-Target.

 
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