Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Distance Between Two Hands by Greg Watson

The Distance Between Two Hands ($9.00) (March Street Press) by Greg Watson

Review by Pam Rosenblatt

Greg Watson has recently published his sixth poetry book called The Distance Between Two Hands (2008), published by March Street Press. The five other books include
Things You Will Never See Again (2006), Pale Light from a Distant Room (2004), Cold Water Memory (2001), Annmarie Revisions (2000) (chapbook), Open Door, Open Wall 1998) (chapbook).

The cover of The Distance Between Two Hands is a tranquil scene portrayed through a photograph by Sandy Anderson who has taken snapshot of the long sleeves of a person’s black shirt, sweater, or jacket. These sleeves expose a person’s folded hands resting on a pair of knees covered by dungarees. The hidden, unknown person sits in a very green, grassy area. In this simple scene, Watson suggests a religious nature that The Distance Between Two Hands holds in its fifty- eight pages. The reader finds herself intrigued to read the book, and all five chapters at that.

What you probably will discover while reading this book is that Watson isn’t your typical poet who writes your typical poetry, whether his poems be romantic love poems or element poems (earth, wind, fire, water). Through the use of descriptive imagery, he is able to capture everyday observations in imaginative, creative, sometimes minimalist ways. His poems are often erotic. Sometimes they are frightening. Often the unexpected happens. Sometimes images are conjured but don’t necessarily make sense in that particular context. Other times, Watson lets us into his mind’s eye with absolute clarity and pleasure. And, I think, all of these tactics make for an interesting, thought-provoking, sometimes eye-opening book.

Watson writes about a lot about women with scars, men and women in love, and the speaker in love as well. The speaker tells about journeys of “passengers on separate trains”(p. 25) , “the way crowds sometimes blur in the unwavering heat of late summer—“ (p. 26) , and even “hands (which) are glass keys, the navigators of distance, weather vanes of wind, rain, and bitter heart…”. (p. 12) His romantic poetic writing style is sometimes reminiscent of Pablo Neruda, the late Chilean poet who won the Noble Prize for Literature in 1971. If you compare Neruda’s poem, “Too Many Names”, to Watson’s “The Conspiracy of Names”, you may agree.

Let’s begin the journey to understanding The Distance Between Two Hands with the opening poem “On The Highway To Lake Mille Lacs” (p. 3). In this piece, the speaker starts the reader on Watson’s journey of self-realization and inner peace. The speaker immediately says, “It’s a long drive,…” He seems to be preparing us the readers for an experience that will take time, that may make

…your legs and shoulders
tense with the effort of stillness,
your hair flying like a red dress torn to ribbons,
your naked feet beautiful as lilies
against the tar-hot Naugahyde of the dash.

The speaker seems to romantically infer that his companion in this car ride isn’t that comfortable and the ride is, in fact, rather rough, as her “legs and shoulders/ (are) tense with the effort of stillness” and her “hair (is) flying like a red dress torn to ribbons”.

Even this woman’s bare feet, “naked…beautiful as lilies” are probably having a hard time “against the tar-hot Naugahyde of the dash.” Watson’s articulate word choices have created similes that conjure up images, distinct and visual. The reader can easily imagine the situation that has both positive and negative imagery.
The speaker seems unaffected by his companion’s plight as he reveals:

I do not speak, confining my thoughts
to the blue concave of sky,
the stone-white of highway lines,
the earthen blood of animals
tire-flattened, strewn along the roadside
like clots of ground the earth has refused.

The speaker only sees the heavens, or the “blue concave of sky” as an escape, as he looks at the “earthen blood of animals/tire-flattened, strewn along the roadside/like clots of ground the earth has refused.” Here the dead animals are like sacrifices to the “earth”, or perhaps more biblically, God. But the “earth” hasn’t accepted the sacrifices except to be “clots of ground the earth has refused.”

The change of tone is effective in the last lines of his poem. Here the speaker says,

The smell of water rises like a premonition,

subtle as dream, pervasive as sex,
that good, godless argument
we wish never to end. It is
a long drive, and for these brief moments
I have been born at the right time.

This poem is filled with concrete observations, but “The smell of water rises like a premonition,/subtle as dream” is a simile that more abstract in thought. While realizing the car is getting closer to the lake as “The smell of water rises”, the speaker admits he’s having a good journey so far and concludes the poem saying,
It is/a long drive, and for these brief moments/I have been born at the right time.”

If the reader compares Chapters One, Two, Three, Five to Chapter Four, the reader will find Watson’s expertise with different writing styles. Unlike the other chapters that contain longer stanzas and take time to read and re-read to understand, Watson has developed shorter, more economical one stanza, three line poems that are more dependent upon syllables and easy to figure out. These pieces are similar to the Haiku that has a total of seventeen syllables in each separate poem. But while Watson’s series of twenty-three poems in “Correspondence of One a sequence” (pp. 42-47) do not consist of seventeen syllables per poem but suggest momentary insights of observations through imagery and because of space between the second and the first and third lines. Here Watson’s style can be likened to Japanese poetry. Here are three “momentary insights” poems by Watson:

Morning glories
in the parking lot fence
glistening with rain (p. 42)

~ ~

Summer night—
old books in the window
swollen with rain (p. 43)

~ ~

the sea returns to the sea,
the greasy moon (p. 45)

~ ~

Greg Watson’s The Distance Between Two Hands is influenced by many sources ranging from poets like Pablo Neruda to minimalism to the Bible to Asian thought and writing style, plus more. If you like a unique reading experience, this book is right for you.

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