Review by Michael Meyerhofer
by Peter Bethanis
1901 Wyoming Avenue NW
2009, 100 pp., $12.00
I am still reeling from Peter Bethanis’s American Childhood, a wonderfully refreshing book full of big, good poems that span a twenty year period (1988-2008) and range in topic from American consumerism to the life of Li Po, along the way addressing divorce, fatherhood, identity, and loneliness. Right out the gate, Bethanis dazzles us with his title poem:
In 1963 the morning probably seemed harmless enough
for my parents to sign on the dotted line
as the insurance man talked to them for over an hour
around a coffee table about our future.
“This roof wasn’t designed to withstand meteors,”
he told my father…
Here, we see Bethanis’s chief talents as a storyteller: subtle rhythm, imagery, and humor. Sincerity follows in abundance—in this poem and others, like these poignant lines from “Fishing with Grandfather”: “The doctors have given you three, / maybe four months, but nothing stops / your hands from bicycling in bass after bass, / each one flopping like an amp needle to the boat’s side.” These lines might label Bethanis a Deep Imagist, but there are meta-poems here, too, plus excellent turns of phrase like this opening to “The Sophist’s Cellar”: “The sophist stubs his toe / on the meaning of things.” Bethanis is clearly a man who owns many hats, and wears them all quite well.