Greg Allendorf’s was the first Brain Mill chapbook I purchased. I loved the cover art, and the back included a blurb from a fellow graduate of Bowling Green State University’s MFA program (Scott Cairns got his in 1981; I got mine in 1994). That seemed like a good omen, so I decided this book was the one for me.
When I read Series Editor Kiki Petrosino’s foreword, though, I was unsure; she described the poems as “conversant with the pastoral tradition of Western poetry,” making references to Shakespeare and Marlowe. Impressive, no doubt, but that style is not always my cup of tea. However, I returned to the back cover and its promise of “lush horniness and hard wit” (more up my alley) and decided to dive in. I was glad I did.
Fair Day in an Ancient Town (Brain Mill Press, 2016)
Feelings while reading: The book has a vibe that is both misty and almost mystical. It’s full of memories of a past love, yet its voice is a wise one that looks back with harsh honesty rather than pure romantic idealism. The opening poem Nota tells us “I invent this written history, / commemorate our sordid run, / and dive into the pool with open mouth / and lungs indifferent. At least I loved.” The blunter descriptions of the lover (like “I dreamt that you were not an idiot” in Paean) are balanced with erotic yearning and praise for his grace. The speaker now sees what had been missing, but there’s also a sense that still he misses — if not the lover himself, at least that urgent rush of craving and hope.
There’s something refreshing about this kind of love poem. I look back at some relationships now and remember them more as lust (or less) than love; yet at the time the feeling certainly felt like love. Those experiences still have value; this book tells me there’s still poetry in them.
(I am curious about the crystals, though.)
Favorite poems: Nota, Sober, The Presentation, Cloying Radiance, Oath
Favorite lines: “glue / your sternum to my sternum and we’ll do / what blue jays do until Orion snaps” (The Presentation) and “Love’s a white chrysanthemum with near / one million petals, each an intact tongue. / Slit the seraphs’ bellies one by one; / harvest those wild opals once a year” (Cloying Radiance).
Final Thought: This is a book that recognizing the sense of longing for what was and for what we wanted what was to be. It finds meaning in those feelings; it owns them in a way that is rare. It’s a perfectly poetic reflection.