Taking All the Secrets with Him: Rick Marlatt on Chad Sweeney’s Parable of Hide and Seek

Parable of Hide and Seek, Chad Sweeney, Alice James Books, 2010

Chad Sweeney is up to some serious mischief in his latest collection, published this fall by Alice James Books. A Parable of Hide and Seek features seamless transitions between narration and metaphor, personification and memory, and reality and fantasy. “Council of Caryatids” is an emblematic piece, in that Sweeney employs playful, unexpected ventures in tone and perspective that illuminate not only logical responses to imaginative stimuli, but also reveal hidden, subtle understandings that speak to larger truths about how language conveys meaning.

Late at night the caryatids
discuss what is behind them.
They face the piazza with its bright water

and strain their eyes sideways
to glimpse each other’s noses.
Listening to the discussion

feels like a cold tremble in the marble.
Gypsies make their accordions weep.
A clubfoot brushes his teeth over the step.

One caryatid says,
A darkness opens behind us
And we are its favorite children. (15)

With relatively simple, tactile images, Sweeney offers a unique conception of perspective that breathes eccentric life and personality into the artificial world. All of this is accomplished in a smoothly organized structure which allows the characters to gradually come to life through the first half of the piece. The third stanza is a crucial point in the poem wherein the pace slows down to a breathless silence, then again gathers energy before launching into its brilliant, addictive conclusion.

Thematically, the collection resists a categorical journey from one place to another; even better, it offers myriad destinations, a plethora of possible realities, of which Sweeney is the orchestrator and guide. Sweeney blends together aspects of consciousness in “The Methodist and his Method” and “Poem,” elements of fiction in “Character Development,” “Rising Action,” and “Establishing a Setting,” urban and industrial landscapes in “The Factory” and “The Auction,” as well as the natural world in “Nocturne” and “Harvest Time while Whale Watching.”

Poem after poem, Sweeney demonstrates the ability to shift tenses, images, directions in the middle of a piece, without altering structure or style. This tactic is visible in “Go to Sleep,” where the speaker’s point of view transfers from third person to first person at the piece’s midpoint. The result is a symbiotic existence between the speaker and the beautifully descriptive environment that has been constructed. “San Francisco” and “Into the Tunnel” explore apocalyptic urban textures that haunt the reader in magical, benevolent ways. While Sweeney’s visions are, at times, drastically disjointed and jarring, the effects are purified by his lines which hum with an unmistakable musicality, a dependable rhythm that intensifies the form that appears to restrain it.

In the title poem, Sweeney’s knack for extremes mixes wonderfully with his quiet brilliance and unmistakable heart. And all of it is on constant display.

I was a junebug found by a vole.
I was a wave ruffled by a wind.

I stood in long bank lines.
I attended the Third Church of the Heretic.

I hid as darkness
diminished by a torch.

I wore glasses and a bowler.
I lay flat as a spill.

I hid as a bullet fired into hay.
I hid as a system of government.

You were my partner in everything.
I lived for you to find me. (22)

Few couplets are able to offer as much profundity and weight with abbreviated lines as those found in this beautiful, nifty piece. Each couplet is a perfectly married pair, an element of the poem that accentuates its themes of counterparts, symbiosis, and relationships. Fittingly, by the poems conclusion, the reader realizes that he is one with the speaker. Those fortunate enough to be familiar with Sweeney’s previous work will see many of these poems as natural progressions from his earlier efforts, yet what is perhaps even more impressive than the visible honing in the poet’s skill, is the balance of a sophisticated style with a genuinely hopeful voice. A Parable of Hide And Seek is a truly terrific gem just aching to be found.

Memorable Souls in Inexhaustible Winds: Rick Marlatt on Don Welch’s When Memory Gives Dust a Face

When Memory Gives Dust a Face, Don Welch,Lewis-Clark Press/Sandhills Press

Few contemporary Midwestern poets have celebrated the landscape, its people, and its visions with the clarity, consistency, and prolificacy of Don Welch. When Memory Gives Dust a Face is Welch’s latest in an expansive breadth of work. In perhaps the most auto-biographical collection of his career, Welch weaves together a life’s tapestry with beautiful strands of memoir including family, history, and childhood; along with philosophical realizations on topics ranging from education and nature, to war and faith. And Welch’s emotional terrains are just as vast as his subject matter. While many of Welch’s poems are warm and light, particularly, his paintings of family life and raising children as in “The Coneflower” and “For Our Children,” many of his pieces are brooding, dark, and hauntingly introspective. In “On the Last Day” and “Letter to Aanya, Two Months Old, in Islamabad,” Welch explores the modern stigmas of torture, pre-emptive war, and the oppression of religious freedoms. What binds these extremes together is a meticulous attentiveness to words and their possibilities, both given and undiscovered. Welch’s poems are deeply felt, exuding an awareness of the world that hums with history, legacy, and tradition, while simultaneously using the poignancy of language to render feelings, convey messages, and portray images communicatively as only the best of poetry can.

“To A Young Poet” serves as an anchor for the collection in that it is a legacy piece addressed not only to young artists, but possibly to the poet himself and a nod to Rilke; an aspect of biographical tendency so prominent throughout the book. As the poem begins, the reader is immediately thrust into Welch’s imaginative connections between the intellect and inspiration: “To play a small candle / on a moonless night, / a voice of light / among the politics of black;” (80) Here the poet is initiating a confession on the personal and communal potential of poetry and its ability to be heard and important even in the darkest realms of the human conscience. Welch is inviting the reader to accept the miraculous as a requisite for believing in and practicing the art of poetics. As we continue into the next leg of the poem, Welch reveals slightly more about his own poetic philosophies: “to be the instrument /of what wants to sing, / surrounded / by excess and ruin; / to stand up for something / falling down the page,” (80) Here, Welch is preaching a selflessness in poetry, an inherent desire to serve the muses of the soul rather than the impermanent themes of modern culture and academia. From this perspective, poetry becomes much more than an art form, and grows into a larger philosophy, a way, a charge bestowed upon only the most worthy of practitioners; that is, those with an appreciation for imagination and a love for words.

As the poet propels this momentum towards conclusion, he narrows in on a final revelation, while striking a nerve with musicality, rhythm and rhyme: “the significance / of a slim poetic moment- / how does this differ / from those / dressed to kill / in fashionable clichés / except to say what / they can never say, / to let the heart / of language have its way, / fire’s tongue / in the candle’s end, / of what you’ve loved / and how you’ve been. (80) As the final lines seem to slip into the reader’s consciousness, the poet illuminates the precious gift that is the written word, and its vital spiritual component becomes clear. Welch’s lines are typically short, and his controlled syllable, tightly developed syntax packs each line to capacity. Here, these single lines are so profound and thought-provoking that they function as beats within the piece that build toward a final, definitive movement. In this sense, the poem works as an inclusive apology to all poets, artists, and spiritual seekers.

Welch’s versatility as a master words-myth is on full display throughout the book with a seemingly limitless vocabulary and one of the most powerful audio, emotive sensibilities found in modern poetics. Welch gambols through the joyous realms of the human experience with a child-like playfulness, yet he is equally brutal and direct with candid visions of violence, poverty, and terror. In “Before My Dead Eyes Open,” Welch combines this disguised complexity with a memorable confrontation of mortality. The piece begins, “Before my dead eyes open, flooding me with nothing, / let me speak to you of the few remaining pods/ of catalpa trees now hung with snow.” (87) Welch connects the emotions of the seasons with that of his own livelihood, and he sets the stage with a remarkably poignant reflection on his body’s relationship with the world. His execution of a variety of rhyming schemes creates an accompanying musicality to the piece, which, in turn, evolves the poem into an elegy of the poet’s own life.

After reminiscing on the passions of his life, the poem culminates with a farewell, in the same place from which the initial trigger of the piece was launched, the body: “What other thing can make the moments / of our dying sing, or give back to us / the baptismal-simple richness of our names? / I’m coming home. My old bones in their sockets slip and sing.” (87) Welch is a technician of words, a master of their power and ability to call out to one another on the page in a grammatical structure that is often more meaningful than technical. In “Listening to a Seventh Grader Reader Robert Frost,” Welch demonstrates his range in sensibility and skill with song-like symmetrical structures of lucid simplicity, yet, this controlled precision is demonstrated in conjunction with experimental lines that challenge traditional syntax and linguistics, as in “That Song For Just a Little Pulse.” Don Welch’s When Memory Gives Dust a Face is an important, unforgettable ghost, which solidifies the legacy of one of America’s greatest, humblest poets. A virtuoso whose voice shakes the air, until, as Welch says in “Parallel is What Runs at the Edge of Us,” “shoulder to shoulder / we walk with the livable dead.” (90)


Rick Marlatt earned a MFA from the University of California, Riverside, where he served as poetry editor of the Coachella Review. Marlatt’s first book, How We Fall Apart, won the 2010 Seven Circle Press Chapbook Award. His most recent work appears in New York Quarterly, Rattle, and Anti.

My Turn to Praise: Rick Marlatt on Jack Henry’s With the Patience of Monuments

With the Patience of Monuments, Jack Henry, NeoPoiesis Press, 2009

With the Patience of Monuments’ opening poem, “Em or F# on a Slide Trombone,” begins with the following lines:

a single note destroyed me,
as easily as Hitler destroyed Europe,
in those echoes
we sometimes refer to
when other metaphors feel to tame.

Clearly, Jack Henry pulls no punches. And his first full length collection is a brilliant fuse of personal reflection, confessional poetry, and social commentary. What binds the poems together is a no nonsense approach to language, detailed description of memorable images, and a strong devotion to discovery and truth.

Henry demonstrates an unflinching desire for clarity in his poems, regardless of their subject. “And We’ve Still Got a Ways to Go,” “That Screaming You Hear is Mine,” and “So Good it Sells Itself” showcase not merely an angry poet, but an artist well equipped to uncover the layers of mystery and equivocation that blanket a true understanding of ourselves as Americans citizens and human beings. In the long-sweeping, segmented piece “Eulogy for a Memory of an Idea that Never Really Existed,” Henry weaves together elements of society, art theory, spirituality, and faith to exhibit tremendous prosody from start to finish. Section one begins with a key self-examination,

this will never see light,
because light
is a theory
of existence and sustenance
of which we are not yet to realize

Following this opening, the poet undergoes an investigation of life, love, and faith; and the discoveries he makes along they way are often dark and profound. However, Henry ends the journey with well-earned hopefulness,

i will start again each day
i will awake and be ready
i will stretch and try
i will never care what another says about me
i will never look back

Henry turns to the past in memoir-driven poems that use specific places and times to trigger interpretations of the present. “Traveling Highway,” “Empty Houses,” and “Last Rites” all encapsulate the poet’s examination of self, aging, and nostalgia. In “Destroyed by Hope,” Henry uses his sensory description to breathe life into a desolate scene:

i watch the sun rise
through green leaves.
dogs bark, birds sing,
cars race along the road.
my mind races without pause,
neurons snap through fissures
that beg forgiveness when
my fingers caress the rope.

she offered promise,
desire fulfilled, yet the sentence
announced perpetual miscalculation-
i stood before Christ
and pushed in the blade.

unbound from my heart,
crows peck at remains-
i drift slow though
vapors of heat rising
from black asphalt-
her smile burns my flesh
as simple as chance
destroys my soul.

Sharp, memorable verbs such as “snap,” “caress,” and “burns” control the action while complimenting the stark content throughout the piece. Henry pays meticulous attention to line length, and the power he packs into that constricted space is emphasized by each line’s fluidity. As a result of this unique, artful style, the poem’s sense of despair is accessible.

While Jack Henry’s poetry is largely defined by its direct, straight-forward intensity, perhaps equally impressive is his ability to let off the accelerator and allow the beauty of his language to flow off the page. “Amber Waves of Grain,” “Cars Go By,” and “My Eyes Brilliant Blue” are wonderful expansions of visual description into personal revelation. In “December Begins Winter,” Henry engages the second person with a grace and sensibility that leads the reader into, through, and out of a heartfelt relationship;

i remember the sound of our voice
and the laughter of your eyes.

you stood at the end of an old
wooden pier and i suddenly realized,


your incantations of life melt
across snow and i watch

strange birds lift away
from treetops.

your world exists under canopies of gray
never to change or borrow from
rainbow palettes. Can it be that
the cloth we thought we both
found shape upon really exists

as a quilt from different beginnings?
something sewn tightly together by helpful hands?

i know the answer and you do as well,
but there on the old wooden pier
your feet stay in place, they do not move,
they do not surrender.

we both know where this ends. how the
last page will read. so many chapters
to go. i am a slow reader and you like
to skip ahead.

Henry begins with short, musical couplets, yet transitions to longer stanzas that inflate the weight and meaning of the poem as it flows to its conclusion. Fittingly, the final phrase slips ahead into the next line, accompanying the images with complimentary structure, and completing the symmetry of the poem overall.

Jack Henry’s poems are gritty. They pull no punches, and whether the poet is exploring the landscape of angst, recalling heartbreak, or looking ahead to hopeful days, his writing is unfailingly honest. What makes the voice in Henry’s poems so remarkable is the awareness of multiple external stimuli, and his ability to synthesize a plethora of sounds, voices, colors, and motion into uniform, lyrical movements. With The Patience of Monuments serves as a terrific first collection and an even greater promise for a strong body of work. Henry relentlessly pursues the truth through his art, for as he states in “Randomness is Beguiling,”

I have your picture
and intrigue and something new
to ponder.

Purchase With The Patience of Monuments

CONTEMPORARY VISIONS: Rick Marlatt on Charles Simic’s Sixty Poems


Sixty Poems, Charles Simic, Harvest Books

Throughout this collection, Simic captures what can be safely encompassed as truly contemporary visions. Socially, Simic’s themes and images range from entertainment with television, film, theatre (“The Devils,” “Cameo Appearance”) and dining, to travel with hotel rooms (“Hotel Insomnia,” “Paradise Motel”), strange cities and night spots, human relations, (“The Secret,” “Mummy’s Curse”) and of the realities and consequences of war (“Empires,” “Reading History”). In addition, Simic focuses on the human mental and physical reactions to these stimuli. Simic’s work is reminiscent of the work of his two U.S. Poet Laureate predecessors, Kooser and Hall. Like Kooser in works such as Sure Signs and Delights and Shadows, Simic demonstrates the uncanny ability to freeze-frame moments in time and render them poetic. That is, many of Simic’s poems such as “In The Library” and “Mirrors at 4 A.M” follow structure around a single incident, thought, or situation.

Where Simic seems to move beyond Kooser’s realm is in the range of emotional weight and connotation associated with his central image. While many of Kooser’s snapshots reveal simple, great-plains kinds of themes and sensibilities, Simic is able to work with a plethora of feelings, including the terrifying and melancholic. Poems like “Late September,” “Unmade Beds,” and “Transport” offer deep ripples of emotion which manifest themselves in fashions similar to a haunting. Because so many of these Simic poems depict a central image and operate through the use of concrete language, the poetic voice approaches that of an analysis or response to a visual photograph. In terms of structure and style, Simic’s pieces in this work are collectively clear. Yet, when we examine several of the poems in detail, a key element is visible in each which carries the weight of interpretation for the entire poem. For instance, in “The Secret,” while the speaker contemplates death and his existence, he catches a glimpse of his white cat “picking at the bloody head of a fish.” (47) This kind of fresh equivocation, something like the Hitchcock swerve perhaps, makes for great possibilities in interpretation and meaning and serves to recharge the poem midway through. In this generally satisfying collection, a few of Simic’s poems appear to suffer from a noticeably overt movement or lack of suspense, particularly at the conclusion, in comparison to many of the other poems. “Country Fair,” for example, ends by following up a rather ordinary set of descriptions with the final stanza: “She was drunk and so was the man / who kept kissing her neck. / The dog got the stick and looked back at us / and that was the whole show.” (33) Read within the spectrum of the other excellent poems in the text, this is a final line which leaves much to be desired. In other words, the unfulfilled feeling in the last lines has less to do with the poem being a failure than with the sheer completeness in the bulk of work which precedes and follows it.

On the other hand, Sixty Poems demonstrates many instances in which Simic is fully capable of blasting his way through an excellent poem with a surcharge of unrelenting momentum. “Club Midnight,” for example, rolls out in a series of questions directed at the reader and through this repetition, formulates a conception that is extremely interesting, literary, and imagistic. Other times, Simic’s diction can create a memory so specific and so quiet, that it demands reader meditation and search for deeper meaning, such as in “The Toy.” What I admire particularly about Simic’s work in this collection and of Hall, Kooser, and some of Collins (much of the latter’s work may not be as applicable to the current discussion as the two formers) is the faithfulness to the simple, plain-speak in contemporary poetry that defies other trends. Interestingly, Simic’s immense popularity forces us to engage in dialogue concerning what constitutes as formal contemporary poetry and what characteristics we can apply to that definition. Though much of Simic’s language is, indeed, simple, it doesn’t lack the ability to be insightful and to bring meaning to the world the poetry depicts. Poems such as “At the Cookout” reveal the intricacy of human relations and the power they have to manipulate emotions and meaning.

“Entertaining The Canary,” which originally appears in Simic’s 1996 collection, Walking the Black Cat, is a poem that exudes a unique personality and layers of interpretation worthy of a focused response. The speaker has a specific name to which he refers to the canary, which makes the address personal and justifiable, as well as adds more weight to the poem and puts more at stake for the speaker. The speaker makes two demands of the canary: desist and sing. There is a connection in the final two stanzas between the three characters in the poem and this relationship is captured by the use of the physical body parts each character demonstrates. That is, the third stanza is comprised of detailed physical descriptions including back, chin, shoulder, breast, and crotch. And it is with the wings that the bird will applaud. In a sense, all communication, verbal, emotional, sexual, is done via the utilization of limbs and attachments. A brief look at the verbs used in the poem reveals a simplistic formula which allows the reader to focus on what is happening inside the moment. Chirp, desist, turn, soaping, putting, sing, flutter, applaud, and throw are very deliberate and specific, meaning the speaker isn’t intended to fool anyone. Instead, through this calling to the reader to turn our gazes inward, we see an urgent plea for communication offered in the scene. Moreover, the speaker ends the poem by making known the consequences for ignoring his plea; that is, a complete and utter shut-off from the rest of the world—a total blackout, as it were.

Ironically, the reading and interpreting of the poem demands an inversion of the title. That is, through the speaker’s marked isolation and want of the bird’s attention, we quickly get the sense that it is the bird that possesses the ability to entertain the speaker. Subsequently, the relationship between poet and reader or artist and audience quickly emerges. As the maker of love, cleanser of the body, and poet of the world, the speaker calls to the canary who serves as the viewer, reader, art consumer in a chillingly honest manner. Further implicit remarks can be made about the speaker’s meaning when we consider the use of “as if you were applauding.” (57) One must wonder what questions Simic might be attempting to raise here regarding audience and entertainment in contemporary culture. Simic’s poem forces us to once again ask ourselves, what is art, specifically poetry? What is the intention and use of poetry in relationship to society and what is the poet’s role within that society? What is the reader’s role? Indeed, Charles Simic’s collection has much to add to this imperative discussion, and through interpretation of the poems therein, we are able to understand more clearly our own specific roles in contemporary poetics. Visually stimulating, metaphysically fulfilling, and artistically mesmerizing, Sixty Poems showcases Simic’s unique poetic gesture.


Rick Marlatt holds BAs in English and Philosophy and a MA in Creative Writing from the University of Nebraska, and he is currently pursuing a MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California Riverside at Palm Desert. Marlatt’s most recent publications include New York Quarterly, Pedestal Magazine, and Poetic Diversity

Notes From the Torn-Up Road: Rick Marlatt reviews Richard Siken’s Crush

Crush, Richard Siken, Yale University Press


In the opening statement of her foreword to Richard Siken’s debut collection, Louise Gluck remarks, “This is a book about panic.” While the book indeed operates on themes of desperation, life-threatening situations, and an unavoidable sense of danger to body and soul, Siken’s poetry achieves greatness on many different levels. Siken’s themes and images range from the crushing effect of tragedy, (Road Music or Driving, Not Washing) the haunting influence of dreams, (Dirty Valentine and I Had a Dream About You) the insatiable human desire for emotional and sexual relations and the fall out thereof, (Wishbone and Dislocated Room) and the inescapable, unexplainable hope of redemption (Seaside Improvisation and Visible World).

While it is the practice of many contemporary poets to follow structure around single incidents, thoughts, or situations and to make that one moment exist as a definition for living, Siken seems to approach his poetry from the opposite side of the spectrum; that is, the entire universe as a single moment in time. The book’s opening poem, Scheherazade, is an excellent lens through which to begin exploring the intricacies of Siken’s work: “Tell me about the dream where we pull the bodies out of the lake / and dress them in warm clothes again.” (3) Not only does this poem begin with a thorough taste of what is to come in terms of themes and images as outlined above, but it serves as microcosm for the entire collection. We immediately see the speaker delving into the dream world for inspiration to attempt to deal with the unspeakably tragic blow that reality has dealt. In the lines that follow, the speaker and “you” share visions of wild horses, the succulence of sliced apples and kisses, and the unique sensation of light. Finally, in a move indicating a struggle out of the darkness, Siken ends with “Tell me we’ll never get used to it.” (3)

In another poem from the book’s first section, Siken begins to hone in on specific tactics to reach reader psyche. The Torn-Up Road, which is broken into five fragments, begins: “There is no way to make this story interesting. / A pause, a road, the taste of gravel in the mouth.” (9) As he’ll do throughout the remainder of the book, Siken begins to echo these opening lines in reconfigured syntax and from different angles. In the poem’s third section, the speaker states: “Can you see them there, by the side of the road? / not moving, not wresting, / making a circle out of the space between the circles.” (9) We see here Siken beginning to find the rhythm of a furious pace that knows no boundaries or constrictions. In fact, as the poem progresses, this heightened sense of ultra-awareness begins to take on its own meaning. By the final lines, we not only know the story, we have relived it through the minds of multiple characters: “And words, little words, / words to small for any hope or promise, not really soothing / but soothing nonetheless.” (10) Even in these early stages of the book, we see Siken attempting in earnest to make sense of an illogical world by expressing it in a non-linear, existential fashion.

Siken’s poetry consistently and beautifully transcends space and time, and as we move into the text’s second section, we see the poet continue with the momentum he has created. In Boot Theory, we see Siken’s repetitive, nightmarish language reach new levels of poetic gesture. The poem’s opening line, “A man walk into a bar and says: / take my wife please,” (20) is repeated four times throughout the poem as preludes to new stanzas of a speaker attempting to, once again, cleanse himself of a world that has brought him pain. Here, Siken deals specifically with a feeling of helplessness at not being able to purge these demons. By the poem’s conclusion, the speaker, who up to this point, has used linguistics to cope with trauma, turns to philosophical, self-examination: “A Man takes his sadness down to the river and throws it in the river. / but then he’s still left / with the river. A man takes his sadness and throws it away / but then he’s still left with his hands.” (21) While Crush is composed of countless examples of inverted phrases and playful distortion of words and cognition, the sense of jarring and dislocation that makes Siken’s work so memorable owes much of its success to the poet’s use of image texts. That is, in poems such as Planet of Love, Siken employs a filmmaker’s vision of camera angle and character shot to enhance the feeling of reader immediacy to scenes that sizzle with raw, human, sexual emotion, much like the prose in William Burroughs’ The Wild Boys.

Moreover, in Primer for the Small Weird Loves, another fragmented poem which ends the second section, we see the simultaneous use of language and image to create an exorcism of a past tattered by emotional and physical abuse. Lines such as “After everything that was going to happen has happened,” (22) “he’s teaching you how to hate,” (23) and “You do this, you do. You take the things you love / and tear them apart,” (24) are all repeated in various ways and presented through alternate perspectives to allow reader not only insight into the scenes, but kaleidoscope visions of conception.

Another aspect of Siken’s style contributing exquisitely to his stirring and poignant poems is his use of caesura to make particular phrases stand out and linger in the reader’s mind. Moreover, the white space that is illuminated around these uniquely structured lines seems to have as much to offer to reader interpretation as the language itself. Later poems such as Road Music and Meanwhile both contain instances of epiphany which are highlighted by the physical location of the words on the page. Siken’s execution of this vivacious form is a perfect stylistic supplement for the erratic reader emotions he evokes. In addition, this consistency in form renders the few poems that follow more traditional structure all the more powerful. That is, pieces like Unfinished Duet, Saying Your Names, and You are Jeff have a symmetrical feel that the reader learns to appreciate. Yet, despite the relaxation in experimental form, these poems take no back seat in terms of their quality and effectiveness. Indeed, as the final lines of You are Jeff so eloquently assert: “you feel like you’ve discovered something you don’t even have a name for.” (58 )

Thus, while Gluck is right about the panic-stricken mood and movements of Siken’s text, it is clear that Siken uses this sense of urgency as a springboard for a plethora of deep and intimate illuminations. Siken’s lines don’t run, they tear across the page at a pace and style so frantic, readers are forced to catch their breath. The problem with a pause, however, is the inevitable desire to return to the impetus of the poems and reread without stopping. These are not poems that lender themselves to stopping points or landmarks; rather, each piece is a frenzied dreamscape worthy of multiple reads and interpretations.

Yet, underneath this relentless chaos is a controlled vision which renders the speaker’s sublime visions as poetic and unforgettable. In trying to formulate a cumulative understanding of Crush, a detailed discussion of several pieces is certainly warranted. What we are left with is a dream vision perfectly woven by a poet who creates an atmosphere of feeling, memory, love, and clairvoyant understanding. Visually spell binding and spatially mesmerizing, Crush doesn’t open the doors and invite us into Siken’s uniquely poetic mind, it lulls us into its addictive cadence, and as in Little Beast, forces us to “punch ourselves awake.” (6)


Rick Marlatt teaches English in Nebraska . He has English and Philosophy BAs and a Creative Writing MA from the University of Nebraska, and he is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of California Riverside. Marlatt is the author of one poetry collection, Firecracker Swallow, and his most recent publications include Superstition Review, Barnwood International Magazine, and Amarillo Bay. Marlatt performs as an actor, poet, and writer, most recently winning the University of Nebraska Sigma Tau Delta Short Fiction Slam.