September 2, 2008

Review by Cameron Conaway

by Mark Sanders

The Backwaters Press
3502 North 52nd Street
Omaha, Nebraska 68104-3506
ISBN: 0-9765231-4-0
92 pp., $16.00

“Plain speech for a plain people” is the opening line of poetry in Here in the Big Empty. And it is shortly after this declarative, colon-ending line that the few negatives of the book present themselves. Opening a book review with the less-than-fabulous is often a precursor to a vicious barrage. The opposite is the case here. And for some readers, of course, the negatives may very well be positives.

Plain speech for a plain people:
weather-words gray as old lumber;
old sheds and old houses
sitting on the tilted legs of wind; (11)

This opening stanza of the poem “Plain Sense” attempts to set the stage for what is to come. William Carlos Williams comes to mind. The way he fought for writing of everyday circumstances in the lives of people. The way his language was often accessible but rich to readers on various levels. Instead, what happens is unexpected. Shifts from plain speech–often stunningly concrete–language like the above quote paired side by side to much-less discernable abstractions. Lines like “verbs the cranes dancing” and “an idea through black dirt.” Some may view the shift as pure versatility, but the leaps feel jarring the majority of the time, and might make a reader feel in the poem one stanza and completely removed the next. Eventually, the reader will be brought back in with some perfect detail or Rumi-esque meditative line. The need to point out the issue has been addressed.

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