EILEEN TABIOS Engages
FATE LINES / DESIRE LINES by Caleb Puckett
(Mammoth Publications, Lawrence, KS, 2014)
Swerve! Cheerful swerve! Wow: I was not expecting so much pleasure in Caleb Puckett’s FATE LINES / DESIRE LINES which I picked up desultorily one afternoon (I’d already pushed away another award-winning poetry book for trying to force me into a premature siesta). Well, Puckett’s poems blew away the lethargy from the house and woke me up!
And the poems did so with much fresh lines. The innovative diction makes it difficult for the eye to pass by. Instead, the reading slows so that one can savor the fabulous language in these poems. For instance—and here I open the book at random—
Words flare and disappear,
obscured by the weather
settling like soot behind bay windows
where coffee pots clatter
and the smell of oil
lulls each interlocutor into dreams of outriggers.
I’m glad the book fell open to the poem “Runoff” which I excerpt above. For this sample also shows one of the collection’s strengths: imagery. When combined with a philosophical stance that I sense lurking throughout, the result can be quite effective, as in the poem “Blind Spot”—
There’s a blind spot between the cataract in the basin and the blade slipping across your chin: a glossy photo of your father floats in that space, white with lather, black with stubble. Shorn and washed away with a disinterested flick, it’s a matter of unfinished business best left inside a leather bound album shelved away. It’s a matter, immemorial and static, detached from the nick that you must nurse at work and work forever to command—the grooming of smooth patience, of a self-made man who keeps life in the present perfect. Perfect is a tap that never stops dripping.
Interestingly, the strength of Puckett’s diction becomes most evident to me in the poems written through some formal structure. His hay(na)ku is strong, as in Scarborough Bound”—for instance, the excerpt
opening into those
with population statistics.
But Puckett’s sonnets are simply wondrous. Read—feel!—his Sonnet 29 and sense the tradition it both confirms and upends!
When In Distaste With Tributes of Human Design
When in distaste with tributes of human design,
I all alone celebrate my singular state,
And find strength no other can assign,
Look upon myself, and determine my fate,
Acquiring resolve through self-directed hope,
Featur’d like a calling, like a charge to be posses’d,
Desiring my inborn art to find a larger scope,
With what I most enjoy, leaving the least:
Yet in these thoughts all men despising,
Sadly I think on me,—and then their state
(Like to the drunkard at break of day arising
With a clear mind) mocks me at glory’s gate;
For pride only comes from the accolades they bring,
Causing me to scorn this slight song of self I sing.
Puckett’s poems are no “slight song[s] of self.” Seek them out and marvel at language made fresh.
Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects because she's its editor (the exception would be anthologies she edits because they focus on other poets as well). She is pleased, though, to point you elsewhere to recent reviews of her work. Soffwana Yasmnin engages her poem "Jade" from her THE THORN ROSARY: SELECTED PROSE POEMS AND NEW (19980-2010) . Her latest book, 147 MILLION ORPHANS (MMXI-MML), is also reviewed by Joey Madia at New Mystics Reviews as well as at Book Masons Cafe Press Website and Literary Aficionado.
And her latest anthology as editor, VERSES TYPHOON YOLANDA, receives an engagement in this issue of GR by Aileen Ibardaloza; at Manila Standard Today by Jenny Ortuoste; at North American Review by Vince Gotera; and at Philippine Inquirer by Luis H. Francia.