Dennis Camire’s poetry first blipped on my radar about 15 years ago when a poem of his practically jumped off the pages of an anthology I was reading, propelled apparently by kinetic energy, if such a thing is possible in words. Several chapbooks, anthologies and other publications later, “Combed by Crows,” his first book-length collection, reveals the energy has not abated.

In fact it’s the central feature of his poems, many of which fly across two or three pages in sometimes very short, sometimes long lines that feel measured to the rhythmic moment even when they enjamb mid-word (“Amazing how the body maintains / A legal ‘photo-ID’ while re- // Growing a new stomach lining / every five days or so”), and that in practically every poem feel like they’re accelerating.

You can get a feel for the directions the poems head just from some of the quirky titles: “Watching the Man with No Arms Teach the Boy with No Arms How to Fish”; “The Dry Stone Waller Muses about Cosmology”; “The Single Mother and the Meteor Shower”; “Moose Ode”; “Ode to Scarlet Runner Beans Running Up the Eight Foot Trellis”; “The Dry Stone Waller on the Major League Baseball Player Who, During His First Season, Left the Big Leagues to Return to Walling.” All over the place.

The phrasing comes so thick and fast it sometimes, by the middle or latter parts of poems, seems to be coming apart in its own exuberance, and it’s no surprise to notice how often the concrete subject matter turns into observations on words themselves. For example, “Stephen Hawking at Zero Gravity” begins as a thought experiment on the awareness of a fetus somehow “aloft,” and then its attention bleeds midway through to wonderment at how this odd consciousness might express itself:

… let me forever feel


Like that orbiting satellite

Keeping tender words flowing

Between lovers in separate hemispheres

So, if I could speak, I’d recant my slight

About me “still searching earth for signs

Of intelligent life” for see how, eight times,


I rose and fell like an angel in training

Not only is the energy in and for the words, but it bubbles so palpably from them that it’s blowing apart conventional diction, line breaks and even word spacing. Another poem, “Ode to the Letter O or ‘U.F.O.: Unidentified Flying Ode,'” races here, there and everywhere the sound O turns up, in a sort of open-form panegyric on a phoneme. “Dithyrambic” is another technical term that comes to mind.

I’m thinking the root influences of this energy are Walt Whitman and William Carlos Williams, who both took direct aim at translating the physical world and its energies into language. I don’t know for sure because Camire’s language, if not his subject matter, is even more riotous than theirs. That riotousness could be the 21st century’s affective update on the two grandfathers of modern American poetry. “Combed by Crows” is a welcome departure from the self-serious, frequently static poetry we’ve seen so much of in the past 30 or 40 years, and worth a look.

Dennis Camire lives in West Paris and teaches at Central Maine Community College. He’s the editor of the Lewiston Sun Journal’s “Maine Places and People” poetry column and a board member of the Maine Poetry Central group, which runs the Portland Poet Laureate Program, among other literary activities.

“Combed by Crows” is available from Deerbrook Editions and online booksellers.

Off Radar takes note of poetry and books with Maine connections each month. Contact Dana Wilde at [email protected].

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