Wednesday, March 29, 2017
STEP BELOW: SELECTED POEMS 2000-2015 by WILLIAM ALLEGREZZA
SHERI REDA Reviews
Step Below: Selected Poems 2000-2015 by William Allegrezza
(Meritage Press, San Francisco & St. Helena, CA, 2016)
An anthology of collected poems is always more than the sum of its contents. Selected from a life’s work, or a portion of it, and placed within a chronological set, poems in a summative collection take on an additional part-time job: they describe the poet’s vision and also chart the ways in which it moves. As William Allegrezza observes in the raw first poem of this collection, “the tree once cut and laid becomes a window with eyes each side.”
One vein of distinction that runs through this collection is the continual emergence of dual realities like that. Allegrezza provides here a rich source of images that startle and yet provoke a sense of recognition. In one poem from “Collective Instant,” he describes himself as “wit-burned” and “steel-legged.” In another, Allegrezza confesses, “I’ve adopted your voice / and now shake sound / above you.” Thus simple images developed through utterly ordinary words pile up like individual ice crystals and transform the landscape. It’s as if the collection endeavors to fulfill the heartbreaking plea from Allegrezza’s “Fragile Replacement.”
song go find
youth retell what outcome
cracked earth will bring
The collection’s more imagistic poems are interspersed with experiments with typography and form, even to the recent collection of poems from “Port Light,” a collection of hay(na)ku. This book’s experiments vary, but collectively, they succeed in creating a fabric of simultaneity within which meaning is constructed. They point to a poet who is not resting, but restless, not satisfied but curious.
Poetic compilations of this intensity are not often laced with humor, though, and it’s to Allegreza’s credit that he includes hilarious and thought-provoking aphorisms from his “Vicious Bunny Translations.” At least one of these was later quoted by another poet in another context, adding to the humor. Taken together, these false quotes are swift and Swiftian demonstrations of Allegrezza’s proficiency with language, as he suits both language and subject matter to the ostensible tradition from which they might emerge. Author “Mirza Khan Ghazal” writes, in mystical tones, “Is it you, O Bunny, whose coming continues to amaze me?” while Jose Martini, declares, heroically, “I have my bunnies which are more powerful than your dagger!” What might have been be a one-joke stab at our relationship to wisdom traditions becomes here a cultural and universal examination the ways in which we humans declare, opine, and muse.
A slow and immersive reading brings out the sense of a poet who is intrepid in at least two ways. Committed to exploring shadows yet jazzed by periodic forays into experimentalism, the collection offers challenge and respite, variety and depth. It will be interesting to see what the next fifteen years reveal.
Sheri Reda is a professional writer, librarian, and life-cycle celebrant—and a frequent storyteller in Chicago’s live-lit community. She is also the author of the recently published locofo chapbook entitled Stubborn, which can be found and purchased at http://www.moriapoetry.com/locofo.html
Posted by EILEEN at 11:00 PM