Monday, July 14, 2008

The Domestic Exotica of the Midwest in the poems of Peter Neil Carroll

The Domestic Exotica of the Midwest in the poems of Peter Neil Carroll
By Michael Todd Steffen

Riverbourne: A Mississippi Requiem by Peter Neil Carroll is a collection of 53 poems recording in verse the poet’s meanderings with friend “Jim” along the Mississippi River, starting north in Minneapolis and finishing south in Natchez, Mississippi. Years have elapsed between the first and second poems, between two similar trips taken by the companions who amuse themselves at observing religious billboards and who’s playing who on the baseball diamonds of the towns they pass through (Prescott, Wisconsin…Guttenberg, Iowa…Quincy, Illinois… St. Louis…Tiptonville, Tennessee…Benoit, Mississippi). Along with the silent parallel of T.S. Eliot’s Dry Salvages and its descriptive/symbolic use of the Mississippi River, frequent quotes from the writings of Mark Twain give the poems a literary resonance, with reference notes at the back of the collection. This second voyage takes place in 2005, building—toward the end with forecasts of rain to the announcement of Hurricane Katrina—to a sense of recent historical drama.
There is an interesting anachronism which occurs at the outset of the book: in the second poem the “two men, 29, divorced” have returned this time 33 years later (!), which would have made one of them, the one who speaks of standing on a bridge joining his thought to the river in the first poem, “I’d Stood On That Cold Bridge, 1972,” -4 years old, which gave me a fleeting glimpse of Dante and Virgil…
That first poem speaks with a lyrical intensity that will not be carried forth. Instead, mature, disillusioned, wry, Carroll’s language like the big river gathers “no white water or rapid falls” maintaining a “monotonous, steady flow”. In doing so, Carroll manages here and there surprising metaphors:

The big river pours south
as gravity wraps around the moon
(“Gravity and the River”).

Patience with the sequence of poems will yield the reader sensations of the domestic exotica which the Midwest and Delta South have to offer readers from other regions. Landscape has a prominent generalizing voice in the vast terrain—
Late sun leans against the Minnesota bluff
across the river, orange streaks skim
the current, snagged islands float offshore…
(“What They Talk About On Saturday Afternoon”)

—and the book is so rife with these vivid descriptive passages, readers are left with a sense of having taken that easy-paced voyage by the slow great river themselves.

Riverbourne by Peter Neil Carroll is available for $12.95 from Higganum Hill Books/ P.O. Box 666/ Higganum, CT 06441/ 800-888-4741/>

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