Thursday, August 07, 2014

Taking a Look Around Us: A Review of When The Light Turns Green by Kenneth Pobo, illustrations by Stacy Esch.

Taking a Look Around Us: A Review of When The Light Turns Green

Review by Emily Pineau

“Sooner or later/ everything is departure.  The hand lets go./ Wind finds it,” Kenneth Pobo writes in his poem, “Suitcase”.  This feeling of change, nature, and moving on is carried throughout Pobo’s poetry collection, When the Light Turns Green, illustrated by Stacy Esch.  Nature appears to be the binding force and metaphor that Pobo uses when talking about life, death, and the feeling of being stuck between the two.  Esch’s illustrations capture the feeling of childlike playfulness, imagination, and discovery that is found in Pobo’s examination of nature, the struggles of growing old, and letting go.  Esch gives a face to the sun and to the characters that are around trees and woven within a collage of bright colors.  This characteristic in her artwork instantly personifies nature, which matches the importance of nature found in Pobo’s poems.

As Pobo walks us through an intense scene in his poem, “Face the Autumn," he compares facing the seasons with the concept of facing bullies.  Pobo writes:

How to face
Autumn? Winter? Spring? Bullies,
birds surrounding the house
at the end of Hitchcock’s film,


When this feeling of being cornered is being compared to things that we have to face in life, such as the seasons, it makes this concept feel more manageable somehow.  Even when the harshness of winter seems to be unbearable, humans have the ability to make it through. So, when someone is faced with the harshness of bullying, helplessness, or loneliness, it would come to reason that people could make it through these situations and feelings as well.  Despite the fact that people may not know how to face these things, we somehow manage to keep going and cycle through, just like the seasons do.  Also, with this poem comes Esch’s picture called, “Where is the Horizon?”  A sun that has a face is being depicted as peeking over the land with what looks to be a pained expression.  Just like with Pobo’s poem, there seems to be a feeling of waiting for something to end, or waiting for a certain light or other side to come.  It is a very powerful metaphor thinking about the sun itself waiting and looking for something to happen.  Usually the sun is seen as something so constant and stationary that one would not think that it would desire change or long to be somewhere else.

    Pobo continues to change how one would think about certain aspects of nature with his poem, “Tree.”  I found this poem to be the one that best showcases Pobo’s unique and impactful images.  In this poem he shows how people can appear to be different in relation to nature and how nature can look different when compared with itself.  Pobo writes, “Put sky in a tree/ and it’s less than/ a caught kite.”  The sky is typically seen as something in the world that is overwhelming because it completely surrounds us and we do not see an end to it.  On the other hand, Pobo is suggesting that if you look at a tree and the spaces in between the branches you will find that the sky is tangled up in it.   Nature is all about perspective, just like how life is all about perspective.  Pobo also writes:

I sit under a leaf house
with no doors to lock,
no windows to close,
quiet slipping off
urgent green.

Houses are usually seen as something that would enclose someone and give them privacy.  In this image, however, a “leaf house” gives the narrator a feeling of openness and what sounds like a feeling of relief.  Peacefulness washes over the narrator at the end of the poem, and it feels like his life has been changed somehow.  The way that he looks at the world has been altered.  Also, accompanying this poem is Esch’s picture, “Last Call”.  In this green, yellow, and orange dominated picture, the sun has a curious look on its face as it is looking out at a fairy or some sort of character with its face hidden by a black mark.  There is a tilted tree off to the side and the setting appears to be a forest-type area.  This picture has a mystical feel to it and it feels like it came out of a fairy tale.  This aura of magic and mystery compliments Pobo’s poem very nicely because there are many elements of the unknown when it comes to looking at people and at nature.

    In general, people are constantly trying to figure out the uncertainties of each other and the world, while at the same time they are avoiding what they know for a fact—everyone’s time has a limit to it.  Naturally people want to continue to rush on to the next thing in life so that they do not waste any time being stuck in the same place.  Pobo’s poetry reminds us, however, that life shouldn’t be about rushing to the next stop.  We all need to slow down, water some plants, and look up at the sky.  After all, the light will turn green eventually.

************ Emily Pineau is an English major at Endicott College and the author of No Need to Speak (Ibbetson Street Press/Endicott College Young Poet Series)

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