Sunday, May 31, 2009

These Poems are not Pink Clouds by Timothy Gager

These Poems Are Not Pink Clouds
by Timothy Gager
Propaganda Press, $7.00

A review by Mignon Ariel King

It's finally truly Spring. The biting Atlantic breeze has subsided, and buds pop open while birds sing. But don't get too depressed if you're both a curmudgeon and a secret romantic who longs to crack open a satisfying poetry collection. "These Poems Are Not Pink Clouds" by Timothy Gager is the cure for Spring fever. In "Harvard Square":

boys sit high on the wall
laughing, to girls
below speaking up
in some open aired
mating ritual

The narrator remembers another time, when he was 16, watching his girl try on clothes "and a beaded dress/made you more/beautiful than/a haunted gypsy/made me kiss you...." The book is an interesting mix of music, wistful lust, and a philosophy that casually mentions how it all might float away even if we try not to blink, for " one/really sees the sun/by staring... (from "bull"). The narrator never quite stares at anything; he remembers, reflects on recent choices and interactions as well as those of the past.

Bordering on a mid-life complaint that the good ol' days of youth will never come again, the narrator swerves at the last minute to admit: "There were no cheerleaders/to kiss at Mooney's house/only bad habits..." (from "out with the cool kids"). There are a lot of surprise endings here, but nothing too crafty. The revelations seem natural, shaped by a voice that refuses to kid itself or the reader. The expert writing style is not bogged down by the poet being overly pleased with his own clever devices. There is plenty of humor, but nothing is cute about the collection other than its pocket size.

In "Howdy from Ohio" a "man breaks into a smile/which is fighting a duel with my wince...." The poem analyzes regional cultural differences, the Boston-dwelling narrator trying to stay in his emotional cocoon when feeling virtually assaulted by the Ohio man's habit of greeting total strangers with a smile and hand pump. Yet the crabby narrator has a soft spot for women. "The Things I'd Say" is a love poem so completely lovely that it's impossible to pick out a few memorable passages to quote. Then, a slight mood shift reveals "How Runs Are Scored" in a sorta love poem that manages to compare sex to baseball in a giggle-producing manner that does not offend the female reader. No small feat.

"$149.99 Per Week" is a dismal reference to a dismal hotel room from the narrator's childhood. It's important to the collection as a whole in that suddenly the reader notices the abundance of travel references here, and rarely are they positive. The totally unsentimental "I Heart NY" describes one rather unpleasant stay in New York in which "a man sneezes into a rack of clothes/on the sidewalk...." The literary-history-minded reader might get excited at the title "Summer Job, Concord Ma.," but don't. Is the Narrator shelving books? No. Working the bait shop near Walden Pond? No such luck. The hapless college kid is peeling onions and dumping trash at a fast fish shack in the middle of nowhere! Don't worry, though, things get worse in this narrator's journeys.

In my personal favorite of the collection, "Sweet, cold Chicago" is dirty, drizzly, lonely, hostile. The fantasy of going wherever one pleases, being left entirely alone, and sleeping in a car is shattered by this miserable narration. It's not the most cynical poem in the bunch, however. That honor goes to the title poem, which sums up the mood of much of the collection: disgruntled yet curiously hopeful. "My Poems are Not Like the Pink Clouds of Cardiff" also notes, "Water is not really blue." If you like your poetry both sweet and sour, this one's for you.

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