“When the Poetry’s Gone: poems”
By Gustav Peterson
Encircle Publications LLC, Farmington, 2015
48 pages, trade paperback, $13.95
In Gus Peterson’s world, anything can happen. And it does. George Washington crosses the Delaware on gym equipment. Bach and Beethoven get sent home early. Route 4 wears a sexy dress. The end of the world, as luck would have it, takes place on a Friday.
Is this really happening? No, and yes.
Peterson’s first collection of poems, “When the Poetry’s Gone,” is a tour of the mental events that underlie, like iceberg masses, the everyday life of an industrial accounts manager who lives quietly in Randolph. Some of the events pop out of the everyday routines like Walter Mitty daydreams; others are sudden uprushes of memory or emotion; and many are the imagination’s elastic creation of meaning — the comparisons and connections that give context and substance to reality.
The setting of “The Rower,” for example, is the second floor of a gym, where “a couple of nights a week” the speaker of the poem enters the “arms” of a piece of exercise equipment. In the poem, the fewest details go to the exercise. The real experience involves the dramas underway during the vigorous rowing to nowhere:
… I often find myself
spiriting Washington across the Delaware,
or pulling the blocks of Cambridge past me
on the way to a prestigious office
somewhere within the department of English
But these are fleeting mental events compared to the central sensibility, which involves memories of longed-for intimacy — alone in a corner “at a school dance, yearning to solicit / just one awkward shuffle,” or in another version, the detached distance of “courtesans / … speaking their low / secretive speech as they pretend / not to notice.” Every image in the poem is a different angle on the loneliness of the rowing-machine routine.
In “February 18th, 6:30AM, Cumberland Farms,” the speaker of the poem trudges into the store as he does apparently every morning. Behind the counter is Norma Jean, “awash in the Sisyphean squeal of hot dog rollers,” but dancing to an unidentifiable Bon Jovi track. Norma Jean’s rhythm and energy turn this background noise into “enduring gospel,” and “the curtains of heaven pull aside.” In the midst of the most mundane, depressing daily routine, you can’t tell if this is really Norma Jean, or if she’s an imaginative avatar of Marilyn Monroe, or if the song is not by Bon Jovi at all but possibly Elton John. But more cosmically important: She is the savior of the day.
Peterson’s similes — which are after all the currency of dreams, daydreams and poetry — are often long and winding aerobatic roads that transform into full-blown metaphors and then return to Earth:
I love you the way I used to love
how Route 4 would suddenly lean over a rise
and, smiling coyly, lift up the hem
of her tree line dress to dip a long blacktop leg
into the valley of a forgotten mill town
Where are we figuratively, here? It doesn’t literally matter, because the important part is the feeling of love that wells up out of the interplay of connections and comparisons. Which is the feeling, after all, where you really live. And the real world of the real world that “When the Poetry’s Gone” deftly unfolds.
Peterson is scheduled to read from his poetry starting at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 14, at Devaney Doak & Garrett bookstore in Farmington. “When the Poetry’s Gone” is available from Encircle Publications (encirclepub.com/product/when-the-poetrys-gone-by-gustav-peterson).
Off Radar takes note of books with Maine connections about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].