Saturday, April 05, 2008

In Chambers: The Boddhisatva of the Public Defender’s Office by Richard Krech

In Chambers: The Boddhisatva of the Public Defender’s Office
by Richard Krech
44 pages/ $10

By Thomas Gagnon

Richard Krech has convictions, which engaged my attention and respect. Krech observes that criminal law operates violently. He makes this clear from the first poem, onwards. (This is also clear from Dickens’ Bleak House or Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd.) He then establishes his role as peace-maker and liberator—overall, a life-giving force in a deadly environment. Kudos to Krech, the lawyer.

Krech, the poet, does use poetic devices, like alliteration, but he uses too few and too rarely. Too many of his poems read like news articles cut into varying line lengths that could be pasted back into the article format.

Meanwhile, onward to what works—
The opening poem, “In Chambers,” is also one of the best poems in the book. First compared to poker, a card game of deception and suspense, the courtroom dramas soon become ominously violent, featuring opponents, powder and ammunition, and corrosion—or worse, destruction—of a human being. The indelibly rhythmic assonance of the phrase “Advocates and adversaries” starts both the second stanza and the poem’s recurrent metaphor of courtroom-as-war. This soon leads to a Darth Vader “black robe at the center/of attention, the center of power.” The judge is an unfeeling robe. In the next stanza also, Krech delivers the horror of the courtroom scene.

At poem’s end, Krech asserts, “There is no symbolism here.” He follows this assertion with aptly terse statements, concluding with “and destroy [a whole life].” Well said.

That Robe from “In Chambers” re-appears later in “Virtual Justice,” where again it plays an unfeeling role, as it “two way video conferences/with a concrete cell/miles away…” While “the Robe” depersonalizes the judge, the conference is depersonalized by video technology. Later on, the alliteration of “Dejected distracted” is attention-getting, perhaps to make the reader wonder, are the prisoners distracted by their dejection? Here is a place where I also wonder, why doesn’t Krech use alliteration in other poems? Ultimately, Krech zeroes in on this illusory, virtual, and therefore, injustice.

In Chambers has other good poems, like “Deconstructing the Prosecution’s Case,” and other good devices, like the drive through the fruitful valley into the unchanging town center and then into the
battle of the courtroom. More often, however, Krech is not using language in an engaging, memorable way. His subject deserves more style than he is giving it.

--Thomas Gagnon

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