Review by Christopher J. Jarmick (email)

by Aaron Fagan

Salt Publishing
P.O. Box 937
Great Wilbraham
Cambridge PDO CB21 5jx
United Kingdom
76 pp., $14.95

(For a review of the same book by Mike Amado, click here)

Metaphors, often absurd and surreal populate most of the poems in Aaron Fagan's debut book of poetry, Garage. There are a lot of word games--some are fun, others are either borderline smart-ass in an annoying way, or 'so what' poems that I can't work up much enthusiasm for. A few of them feel like the kind of work turned in by a graduate student trying too hard to impress the professor with literary references.
I was glad to see that a lot of the poems have a sly dark sense of humor and I hope some of the most forced lines are meant to be laughed at and not taken seriously. A couple of poems really turn dark without getting sentimental. Many of the poems grasp or wholly embrace and French kiss pop-culture references.
I'd be lying if I told you I knew what the poem "Monopoly, Toledo" means. Pieces of it leave impressions with me and I liked it. Part of it reads like a variation of a pantoum, done with three line stanzas rather than quatrains.

Leather notebook, a gratitiude journal:
Write a story . . . "What's on your mind?"
"Do you mean right this second?" I asked

The poem builds with a series of impressions and snippets of thoughts and ideas and then it is re-molded as lines are repeated juxtaposed against different ones. It is an exciting, somewhat arrogant poem.
Elsewhere, even in poems that don't quite hold together for me there are inspired lines--lines worth borrowing and re-inventing.
In the poem "Drastic Measures":

. . . There's no feeling more accurate than grief
I scream, but the machine is loud and I don't know
If I've said it. When the little ones came, which one
Had hair approximately the same size and color as mine?

My favorite poem from the collection is probably the one called "Private Number Calling". It's one of those poems I categorize as deceptively simple. It reads easily but I was compelled to read through it again and enjoy how it captured a wonderful little life moment vividly...

Each time the voice calmer
Than the last as my madness
Grew up and out from nowhere.

The poet says too little, forcing us to work up a larger story for ourselves for an experience described impressionistically. It ends the poem by abruptly letting a brand new character enter the poem. Somehow it worked for me.
A lot of poems have inspired moments. Two or three lines of cleverness or wisdom that strike home. There may be 10 to 12 more lines to the poem, but quite frankly they are often filler failing to do anything but hold up the inspired lines.
"Making Light":

The gum on my left show as I walk
Across the carpet makes a sound
Close to little spits of radio static.

The next four lines don't quite measure up:

And the tug it it gives my leg lets me
Know I am aware of my walking.
Lets me know I know where I am--
I am in my life, and in the library.

And there are five more lines to go that dilute rather than add to these lines.
Yes, it's a poetry book where the beginning of each line has a capital letter which makes me stop and consider if someone is lazy in the editing department or if the author likes it that way.
There are poems with clunkers like:

The all night sleep of your soul
Where the galaxy greeted my uncertainty with
A feeling I was free to disappear inside of
          ("Naked Leaf Dissolve")

There are poems that should make you chuckle with lines like:

I have to make a guess
About the king who put
A sword through the side
Of his head for love
          ("Card Trick")

And we get poems with inspiring lines like

My mind needs
an outlet, and it's going to represent,
a space my inner-Jackson-Pollack-pain
can get alcoholic at with images
          ("Porn Projector")

There are three or four excellent poems, several good pieces with lines that really got my attention and enough fearlessness on display in Garage that poets interested in new modern work should take a look at it.



Christopher J. Jarmick is an author, poet and fee based financial advisor now living in Seattle. He is President of PEN - Washington; former executive Vice President of the Washington Poets Association. He curates and hosts two poetry venues that feature published poets and open mics, because one without the other would kill the flowers in the garden. The novel he co-wrote in 200, The Glass Cocoon, is still in print. His poetry has been published in several magazines, newspapers, literary journals, online and in anthologies like Mute Note Earthward; Between Sleeps; and others.



Note: Reviews may not necessarily reflect the opinions of RATTLE's editors and staff.