Thursday, April 07, 2016

A Berserker in Traffic: Poems by Erik Richardson


poems by Erik Richardson
ISBN: 9 780692 251324
© 2014  36 pages/ $12.95
Pebblebrook Press, an imprint of Stoneboat

Last Christmas, my husband gave us an DNA test. I knew there was a lot of Norwegian in him. Little did I know that I had some of the Norse in my DNA, too, which is why I especially enjoyed this small book of poems.

Berserkers were said to be Norse warriors who fought with a trance-like fury, hence the origin of the word “berserk.” Richardson’s poems are made of a bit gentler stuff, but they manage to sneak up on readers and, like “a Valkyrie, whisper in your ear:” be wary, be afraid. These berserkers are pop culture, the person in the next cube, the woman in the express line with six-too-many items.

a berserker stuck in traffic

or at a desk, staring at a screen.
standing in a long slow line at the store
when a valkyrie whispers in your ear,
“you were not born for this.”
you remember that your bearskin shirt
is stashed in the bottom if your dresser,
but the trance is on … . 

These are everyman/woman poems, the howl of the little and small: the teacher, the scientist, the child, the motherless son.

There are other reasons to like and respect Richardson’s poetry. First, he’s an accomplished wordsmith; his poems are rife with story, filled with momentum and music of a good tale. Though he uses little punctuation, he leads readers through his poems using words, pauses of syntax and line. 

perched on the edge of 92nd street
stressed for infecting my  neighbors’ yards
with wind transmuted diseases—

incriminating dandelions point back to me
even in the dark—I have no clear idea
what time the sun died today or will rise again.

Second, Richardson is a skilled storyteller, incorporating mythologies of the Irish, the Norse, the Greeks. He also manages to weave his tales, using math and science, the voices of Hemingway and Merton, the soft whispers of Heaney, and the mystery of the Bhagavad Gita. How does a man of heart and principal, a man of spirit, a man of words, live and live well in a culture such as this? 

when one is free of individuality
and his understanding is untainted,
even if he quits his job,
he does not quit and is not bound.

All is not lost in Richardson’s poems. He hasn’t gone entirely gone mad. There is humor; there are constellations of wondrous light. In “the berserker stuck in traffic,” “… the light goes green, the line moves on…/

your morning meds kick in
pulling you down … , the rage
that would have once made you holy …
you are just an accountant.
poems of the skalds were not true. a sword in the trunk
of your car is a really. bad. idea.

Savoring Richardson’s poems in this lovely book is a good idea, a good idea, indeed.

*** originally published in   Wisconsin People & Ideas

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