by David Rivard
April is National Poetry Month, and while I would like to tell you that I picked up Otherwise Elsewhere on April 1st and blew right through, I had to start and stop since March 10th. I’m not a natural poetry reader, and my inexperience became apparent when I had a massive head cold and could not concentrate on more than one line at a time. Poetry requires full attention, and I wanted to give it.
My difficulty with poetry is not the fault of poetry itself, but the untrained way in which I read it. I have a tendency to latch onto specific lines, but I often miss the bigger picture of the poem itself. Do not trust me as a reliable source for what the poet is “getting at” in his/her work. Unless the work falls into my areas of expertise — love, lust, and loneliness — I barely feel qualified to comment on it at all. Poetry is a different language, and I respect those who are really able to understand, discuss, and even write it with skill. Apart from the usual bad teenage attempts, it’s not something I do. Still, I am trying to get better at reading it. One improves by doing, after all, so when I see a book of poems that looks interesting, I try to make an effort.
David Rivard’s poems in Otherwise Elsewhere often deal with dreams, people lost and remembered, and nostalgia. He is both floating above the scenes he describes and intimately involved. His mind wanders, but in a nice way. I know “nice” isn’t too terribly specific, but it feels apt. It feels like the wandering mind of a person who, yes, writes poetry for a living — a real, live poet navigating the world.
Stopwatched in this world amid party chatter & dance music
for 15 minutes, 39 seconds I felt everything I had felt
for her in middle school then — charmed, itinerant, slap-happy & razed —
rewound to fantasies of petting in the class cloakroom during gym.
— from “Crush”
Lots of times I would be stopped by the thought, “Holy cow, now that’s a line.” (Yes, I’m one of those people who still say “Holy cow.” See also: “Dude,” “awesome,” and other similar outdated 90s phrases.)
Reagan dead this Saturday the last —
the falsifying mind cratered,
the brain that was a salt block America loved to lick —
— from “Double Elegy, with Curse”
because there are two kinds of distance between us — towards, & away
— from “Otherwise Elsewhere”
Rivard also reflects on himself and the people who have the good sense to be honest with him, people who he respects and loves. He talks often of his wife and daughter, and the effect the have on his sense of well-being. They help him stay aware of his weaknesses and quirks.
I am as you would know
impatient & inside a swarm of loud thoughts
self-absorbed & locked-up,
If you were to die
who would remove me
from those thoughts?
— from “Forehead”
My tastes with poetry tend to swing more towards appreciating the personal content over “State of the World” musings, but then, that’s how I like my reading in general. I want to know how you feel over what your prescription for the world is. I want to know what drives you to be passionate about a subject and not only hear your ranting. Rivard does all of these things well. I tended to prefer his more straightforward, almost prose-like poems, but I will admit that’s because they were easier for me to read. That does not discount the others.
Other highlights for me were “Pirated Music,” “To Simone,” “Coffee House, Eastern Standard Time,” “To Lynda Hull,” and yes, one called “Nostalgia.” Rivard has a particular talent for titles — how could I not be intrigued by something called “Somewhere between a Row of Traffic Cones and the Country Once Called Burma?”
Otherwise Elsewhere is a slim volume and certainly not impenetrable to one not acquainted with poetry in general. I’m glad I read it, and I’m glad that it has contributed to my self-inflicted poetry education.
Full Disclosure: I won this book from Graywolf Press through a giveaway on GoodReads.
This review is part of Pajiba’s Cannonball Read III, in which participants attempt to read and review 52 books over the course of one year. In order to make up for last year’s 51 books, I’m aiming for 53. The challenge ends December 31, 2011.