Review by Marilyn McCabe
by Allan Peterson
P.O. Box 1584,
Northampton, MA 01061-1584
2009, 20 pp., $12.00
I think what caught my eye first in Allan Peterson’s petite chapbook Omnivore, winner of the Bateau Press BOOM chapbook prize, was this line: “Offshore water flashed like the button king/gizzard sheen oil slick/An agitated figure turned out to be a towel…” From a poem called “Ill Wind,” it offers a sense of urgent but mysterious movement, the reminder that all is not what it seems, and that, whoever he is, the button king roams the world, glinting and winking. And Peterson too roams the world, writing his glinting and winking poems from what he finds there.
The tidy look of the book belies the appetites of the poems. The austere white space of the double spaced lines masks the voraciousness of the content. “Perhaps I would even eat candles and survive/the deep frozen ocean on my fats and waxes,” writes the narrator in the eponymous poem, and goes on, “One night I ate the entire bedroom to lace/and she unfurled her leaves to please me.”
Many of the poems unfold in long lines, but skirt linearity in their thought processes. Something other than strict logic is at work in these lines, and to seek too much logic is a mistake here. Some thoughts seem inadvertent or as from a subconscious murmur, or the mind’s litany of input, such as this from “The News”: “There was a cut-short song/There was another bomb in Ramala Finally a wren/left its nest in a torn screen…”
Peterson is a visual artist as well as a poet, and his poetic eye takes in the world, as we view a painting, not an orderly left to right, but a scan, a darting from one interesting element to another. If Peterson’s leap of thought sometimes may leave the reader behind, as in the puzzling “Oracular,” in which unlikely spontaneous events hold some kind of portent, nevertheless his vivid language made up for the loss.
Here are poems that capture both the richness of the world’s tangibles and its intangibles. Dense with images that muscle against each other, often unpunctuated, the poems are concerned with the power of naming and the power of the word to stave off despair, annihilation. From the tumble of “Hospice”:
we could rededicate ourselves
not to lose the next one to yearn harder say the names
of things they loved more often…
like a barrier say ulna say clavicle
push them like heavy dressers against the door.
Of course it is also a poignant reminder that no word can save us ultimately from pain and death. Oh, but how we try to bar the door.
His poems are not visual only, however; we hear the sounds of gnats, a mower, the twin splashes of diving tern and leaping mullet, all serving as jumping off points to consider the nature of existence, its brevity, and yet, as he puts it in “Unnoticed,” “…how packed this instant….”
And the poems explore the power of language to transform, as in this from “The Whisper”:
The sound of flying heard in each breath
mentioning the red-tailed
and of them the smallest the most profound:
that says when I love you I change my name.
This is the power that attracts me to poetry itself, that leaves me helplessly loving the world and the word. In Peterson I’ve found no effete vegetarian, no picky eater, but a fellow glutton of world and word. We want to eat it all up.
Marilyn McCabe’s work has been published in a variety of literary magazines, including Nimrod, Beloit Poetry Journal, and Rhino, and she has received awards through the New York State Council on the Arts and through the Adirondack Center for Writing.