Writing a review of a collection of poetry is not the same as writing a book review. I tried the last time Robert Moore released a collection of poems, The Golden Book of Bovinities. Poetry is a pricklier proposition. (See what I did there with the alliteration and all – just so you know I do get some of those poetic bells and whistles.)
Bob and I have known each other for twenty-five years. I met him back in 1991, when I returned to university to finish my Arts degree. He’s only a handful of years older than I am and one of the benefits of being a mature student is getting to know your profs on another level. I loved being in Bob’s class and was thrilled when he agreed to be my honours thesis advisor. We’ve stayed friends over the years and I have always found our conversations entertaining and hard work in equal measure. (Hard in the sense that Bob is off-the-charts smart and has a vocabulary that keeps mere mortals on their toes.)
Based on Actual Events is Moore’s fifth volume of poetry. I’ve got all his poetry collections, but to be honest he started to lose me a little in 2012 with The Golden Book of Bovinities.
The blurb on the back of Based on Actual Events says
Robert Moore gives us a book-length sequence of sleek, fiercely comic, colloquial poems whose aphoristic storytelling is pegged to nostalgia for sublimity. His project is to find frames of reference for our estrangement from the world.
That may very well be what Bob’s trying to do with these poems, but I didn’t get it. (Geesh, I barely got the blurb!) His earlier poems dealt with relationships and his parents and art and, you know, stuff I could mostly relate to. Based on Actual Events is for wicked-smart people, which generally counts me out. That said, poetry in general is often layered and mysterious and requires fortitude. However, if you take Billy Collins’ advice and “press an ear against its hive” or “walk inside the poem’s rooms”, a poem will always reward you.
So, that’s kind of my approach reading this collection. I listen for what I like; I walk around in the bizarre rooms Bob’s constructed. I make my own meaning.
Even under enhanced interrogation the vampire
refused to give us anything. And we tried it all,
shit we didn’t even know we could do and still call
yourself human. Nihilo. Zilch. If anything, his smirk
got smirkier, his ass even wiser. And those fangs!
Growing back each time; pellucid as milk,
alert as metal against skin.
So we waited until high noon – both hands reaching for God –
then shoved him out of the van in the Sears parking lot.
It was like you’d lit a gasoline fart. It was like wings
opening inside you.
Over before you could swallow. Seen more ash
at the end of a Virginia Slim. “Holy screaming fuckballs,”
sighed the captain, as much to himself as to the assembled,
we who’d done things we couldn’t even share
with ourselves, never mind over breakfast
or lost weekends, in earshot of our televisions,
which knew every lie in the book.
Anyone who knows me will know why I liked this poem. 🙂
These poems are ironic, often funny (I think) and use a lot of words I had to look up in a dictionary. Whatever, my vocabulary could use some work.