Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Book Review: Fire in a Nutshell, poems by Bill Graeser

At poetry readings, Bill Graeser doesn't read his poems, he recites them. His eyes with the audience, owning his words from memory, he speaks to his listeners, shares his experience with every syllable.

I find reading his book, Fire in a Nutshell, produces a similar effect. His cadences of language produce a viable buy-in of ownership, although "there is no shareholder, no overhead but the sky," to quote from Graeser's introductory poem, "These Are Mine."

These poems find the good and grand in the world, and proclaim quietly that the simple and the mundane are not lacking. It is our vision that is lacking, our attention. Many of his poems point out the celestial in the pedestrian--"Well, now, would you look at that!" He raises and uplifts our everyday lives, and I thank him for his work.

Take the poem "Socks," for instance. He gives a view of life, somewhat pungent, somewhat humorous, and richly insightful. Socks are "underwear for the feet" and "hiding places for holes and smell-bad." There are drawers full of socks--and then the poem turns, like a classic Petrarchan sonnet, to a deeper, more universal meaning, of those without socks and shoes, who dream of socks and cowboy boots; of peasants, with "cracked and calloused feet," dreaming the dreams of kings.

These poems take us beyond ourselves, as in the poem "Cleaning Fish," a task best done with "a knife in one hand, a cigarette in the other." But there is another perspective, how some find a way, like fish in water, to swim the world, to "enter with their whole body the sea. I have seen them--their eyes blazing, the hooks gone." This, too, is our world, our possibility.

Reading the poems instead of just hearing them recited also provides a chance to acknowledge Graeser's craftmanship as a poet. His line breaks and stanzas, his use of imagery and sound ground his ideas in the sensual world. As readers, we are able to meet "the earth with our palms," to have fallen down and to have "smudged the lipstick of mud on our knees."

This poet's vision is broad enough to praise Grandma's '59 Oldsmobile, to lullaby Godzilla to sleep, to praise small pencils and the Irish jig, and to worship in the church of cows. It is a perspective that does not throw stones at tanks but does "write a poem for those who do."

There's a lot of good in these poems, and Bill Graeser has found it in our weedy, wondrous world, where "sunlight anoints" us. It's a good world, and we are told "the clouds unload their rain cargo for you as for the rest." I take solace in that.


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