Click Image to Visit the Pecan Grove Press Web Page for Poetry from Paradise Valley


Poetry From Paradise Valley

Pecan Grove Press has released an anthology of poems, a sampling of works published in Valparaiso Poetry Review during its first decade, from the original 1999-2000 volume to the 2009-2010 volume.

Poetry from Paradise Valley includes a stellar roster of 50 poets. Among the contributors are a former Poet Laureate of the United States, a winner of the Griffin International Prize, two Pulitzer Prize winners, two National Book Award winners, two National Book Critics Circle winners, six finalists for the National Book Award, four finalists for the National Book Critics Circle Award, two finalists for the Pulitzer Prize, and a few dozen recipients of other honors, such as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, etc.

Readers are encouraged to visit the Poetry from Paradise Valley page at the publisher's web site, where ordering information about the book can be found.

Best Books of Indiana 2011: Finalist. Judges' Citation: "Poetry from Paradise Valley is an excellent anthology that features world-class poetry, including the work of many artists from the Midwest, such as Jared Carter, Annie Finch, David Baker, and Allison Joseph. It’s an eclectic and always interesting collection where poems on similar themes flow into each other. It showcases the highest caliber of U. S. poetry."
—Indiana Center for the Book, Indiana State Library

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jeffrey Franklin: FOR THE LOST BOYS

Only seven poems into For the Lost Boys—one-seventh of the way through the forty-nine pieces in this first collection of poetry by Jeffrey Franklin—readers are alerted to the importance of our capacity to discern what we observe around us. “Boundaries of Seeing” describes a scene sometime ago when explorers once decided to show Eskimos a silent-film comedy and “splashed a movie across / the igloo’s breath-sheened wall.” The visitors seem to believe they are benefiting the natives by exposing them to such sophisticated humor of a more advanced culture. However, while the white men are entertained, and the Eskimos are “polite enough to feign a chuckle,” Franklin focuses on a compelling comparison, perhaps more of a contrast, between the figures in the film and the visual wonders available regularly in this natural landscape, as he depicts “the shifting abstract patterns, how / with such slow grace they swam / across the igloo’s starry dome, // like the breath of the Aurora, / they said, in the cupped / hands of the night sky.”

A number of the works in this book concern various perceptions and one’s learning to see from another’s point-of-view. Occasionally, the speaker in a poem encounters, observes, or receives advice from someone with a different background because of contrasting cultural, economic, or social circumstances. Perhaps a simple gap in chronological age or maturing experiences at times accounts for varying visions of the world. Even in the volume’s opening epigraph, from J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, Franklin hints at such dissimilarities: “The differences between him and the other boys at such a time was that they knew it was make-believe, while to him make-believe and true were exactly the same thing.”

The opening poem of For the Lost Boys quickly displays Franklin’s approach. The initial lines appear to recount one moment in a military engagement: “My first shot caught him cleanly / in the crease of his hip / as he lay on his side in a sniper’s pose” (“The Gun in the Chair”). However, readers clearly discern the poet as the speaker when he comments with detailed description: “I would like to say / I noted the Ming blue of the sky, / admiring the patterning of the aspens, / their bark a creamy green khaki.” The poet then concedes his feelings of “quietly murderous joy” and confesses the target of his shooting “was, is, my son.” Persuaded to join the son and his friends in a paintball battle, the speaker slips easily into the spirit of combat, so much so that he revels in the heat of battle and chooses “to shoot him again / this time on the skin of his arm, / the welt a red-rimmed crater days later.” Remembering his own childhood days when he would imagine a broken chair leg to be a machine gun, the speaker addresses any confusion between fantasy and reality, the easy transition from such playful activity to actual warfare: “If I could understand why I did that / we might do without war.”

“Black Pattern on a Mocha Ground” provides another poem that indirectly references war when a Vietnam veteran reports to the poet that what he feared the most in the jungle was not “‘gooks or bombs’ but a cobra, / Hood flared, reared belt-high.” The poem’s speaker starts this piece by explaining how he killed a snake: “I bring the brick’s end down / On his head in one tamping motion.” However, by the close of the poem, we learn the action was not one of courage, but it was some sort of act of mercy, since the speaker was killing a snake that had been deliberately run down in the road by a neighbor. The poet offers effective description of the damaged snake, painted as colorfully as if it were a destroyed work of art: “His perfect tube is ruptured: a yellow / Loop of intestine hangs out // A staggered pattern of obsidian chips / Floats the mocha ripples on his back.” Consequently, readers share the speaker’s revulsion at the “failed perception” exhibited by his fellow human.

Frequently, Franklin faces situations in which he feels out of place and finds himself involved with interesting individuals who enrich his life, by showing their wise insights, or awaken his emotions, particularly those of concern and compassion for others. In “Hillbilly Zen” the speaker recalls an instance when he was fifteen and working for a summer at a job surveying in the mountains with a local backwoods character, Tom, whose memory and influence, a “hillbilly Zen of wiliness,” persist in a moment of recollection more than three decades later. Another poem, “Facing the Elk,” which involves facing one’s fear, begins: “Rex, the cowboy campground host, told us / it was a bear ate the guts of that elk.”

The poet also profiles a poor old woman caring for her granddaughter after the death of her son and abandonment by the mother at the time of the child’s birth in “Breanna’a Grandmother.” The speaker and grandmother sit by an apartment pool to watch their girls swim together, as they do often: “Her in her shift and stockings rolled / To smooth tourniquets beneath her knee wattles. // Me having leaped from a Land’s End catalog / But with a plastic cup of San Miguel tequila.” The woman, uncertain of her future, worries she may even be evicted, exhibits anxiety as she tenses each time her granddaughter swims underwater. Unable to swim herself, she has a “recurring dream” in which Breanna drowns. By the final lines of the poem, the poet wonders about the grandmother’s difficult situation: “What did I know, / What do I know, of the medium in which / She has no choice each day but swim?”

Franklin often offers gratifying poems about family relations and the sense of home. In a lovely work reminiscing about how his father would prepare Saturday morning breakfast for the family, “looping the fat yolks // into a pinwheel of yellows” (“Cookin’ with the David Jones Trio”), Franklin delightfully describes connections to a jazz trio’s performance witnessed the night before, the pianist “startling / a flung fist of starlings / from beneath the eaves of // the baby grand.” Elsewhere, “Beneath the House Foundations Lie” presents evidence of the speaker’s own sense of responsibility as a father when he crawls under his house: “Here, the residue of our lives have settled, / sifted down through the cracks of years.” He would like to “let it lie” and avoid the adventure, “heed the warning / of the taut web suddenly met”; however, he is aware of another nearby house undercut by “the unrelenting rain” that had “toppled down the escarpment, / bedding mother and child under blankets / of mud, the father come home late.” In a lighter domestic piece, the poet finally finds pride with the title “I Painted the House Myself”: “I have come in the end to a kind of surrender, / the sheer repetition like the mother’s heartbeat / heard from within, so that even in sleep / I keep on painting.”

Whether shopping to get a gift for his wife (“Buying Lipstick for My Wife”) or observing the clown at a kids’ birthday party (“Captain Seaweed, AKA Checkers the Clown”), Franklin interjects instinctive humor with imagery and intuition. Indeed, one of the reasons readers are entertained by these poems seems to be because the poet also appears amused by the process itself. “Spice” serves as an excellent example, as Franklin displays a playful use of language, focusing on the alphabet: “especially / the Cs: caraway, / cardamome, cassia, / modest chervil, immodest / chili, cinnamon’s / exotic coziness, / the cloven hooves / of cloves . . ..”

Although most of the poems in For the Lost Boys rely primarily on narrative to carry their load—sometimes resembling the works of contemporary Southern poets like David Bottoms, B.H. Fairchild, Andrew Hudgins, Rodney Jones, or Dave Smith, another Southern poet who also has written about his time as a transplant in the mountainous West—Franklin usually complements his story skills with a sharp lyrical ability. In fact, in those poems where Franklin opens up the lines and stanzas a bit—as in “Cookin’ with the David Jones Trio” or “In Jenny-Lynn’s Garden”—rather than writing long and wide block stanzas, the tone and pace of the pieces seem even more poetic and more engaging, the brisk rhythm and mellifluous sound come across as more musical.

Despite his occasional rhyming poems, Franklin’s works are almost always free verse; yet, he maintains a sense of pleasantly paced phrasing. In “Watermelon” the poet shows his subtle lyrical technique: “The sun’s plumb bob / wobbles beneath me, sends me / stumbling over clods, tipsy partner / to the scarecrow in the Jackson’s garden. / There, in seaweed-fingered camouflage, / prehistoric eggs line the furrows.” The poet’s insistence on revisiting the scenes in his pieces through the use of precisely detailed imagery appealing to each of the readers’ senses increases the likelihood we will be absorbed by the actions and emotions of the poems’ personae. For instance, readers feel as if they are hiking alongside the poet in “Facing the Elk,” moving “through a meadow where grasshoppers crackled / suddenly into the heat-stilled air, / snapping their cellophane wings like party favors.”

Indeed, involving readers in the stories is essential for the poems’ effectiveness. However, the accurate narrating of these pieces with exacting details also assists the speakers in understanding themselves more fully. As Franklin suggests in “Stories That Become Us,” we are shaped by our histories, especially as we identify ourselves in our versions of what has happened. What we remember and how we communicate our memories to others matter: we shape ourselves in our sharing of ourselves.

Just as the narrator relates his belief we are at least partially identified by “stories / that become us in the retelling,” Jeffrey Franklin’s apparently winsome personality appears clearly represented through his portrayal of the speakers in these poems. In fact, part of the satisfaction derived from For the Lost Boys seems due to readers becoming acquainted with the likable character who is the poet in this volume, though seen in various roles—as son, husband, father, friend, outdoorsman, teacher, scholar, etc.—including the varying perceptions and viewpoints or duties and responsibilities each position brings with it.

In the book’s last lines from “Judy as Pinãta” the speaker leaves us with an appropriate closing image after “a boy with a stick” splits open the crepe-paper figure swinging above him to get at the little treasures hidden inside: “I stand with a baby in my arms, / our family gathered round, those / living and, behind them, // all our dead, and you / are floating, floating above us, / rosy, empty, and whole.” Many of the stronger works in Jeffrey Franklin’s For the Lost Boys similarly strike at their subjects with enough force to uncover tiny treasures, nuggets of truth about how the personae—perhaps sometimes speaking for readers as well—might define their world, especially the intimate relationships with family members and friends of the present or the past. In turn, the speaker of each poem, usually recognizable as the poet, finds himself to be defined by his responses and the way he relates his narratives, as the stories become him (in both the transitive and intransitive uses of “become”) in their retelling, and the poems frequently enrich readers as they open up, revealing little treats, emotional tokens or gifts of wisdom hidden inside each one.

Franklin, Jeffrey. For the Lost Boys. Ghost Road Press, 2006.

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