SELECTED REVIEWS OF BACKWARDS DAYS
By Stuart Dischell Penguin, 63 pages, $16 paper
In his fourth collection, "Backwards Days," Stuart Dischell walks the lonesome path of those ravaged by desire and none the wiser. Personal but minimal, the poems of the book land lightly in moments of sincerity only to nearly erase their sweetness with accusation and self-reproach. There's no halfway in Dischell's version of self-knowledge. The title poem of the book says it all:
My son's teacher holds backwards days in class
Where the students come to school in pajamas,
Eat dessert for breakfast, say good night
When they mean good morning. So it is
I say goodbye to you because I hate you
And find you ugly and every moment with you
Is boring to me.
And the only thing more disorienting than being out of love, it seems, is being in love. "Yesterday I fell in love eleven times" begins a sonnet (with one line strategically amputated) aptly titled "Lyric Poet Disease." You're not always sure you like the person living through the events of the boo k, who is often in a state of self-misunderstanding and is, in his quest for self-knowledge, more like the dumb fellow in a Socratic dialogue who keeps being wrong than like Socrates. But there's something to like about that. Dischell sees himself most clearly in states of palpable bewilderment where the momentum of the poem seems like a lump in the throat:
I dialed a friend who said, 'Go
Board your flight,' and I did
what he said and the things I said
I would not do, walked through
the airport to my plane.
The dance of "Backwards Days" is most memorable when the poet is stumbling. Some of the poems are clever, but they are never smug, and the raw endings of many of them sting well past the book's final page.
Backwards Days Stuart Dischell. Penguin, $16 (64p) ISBN 978-0-14-311255-6
Blue-collar heartbreak and terse, hard-won wisdom dominate this vivid fourth outing, in which crowds of men and women try to do ““the basic human thing””: Dischell’’s quiet protagonists traipse riverbanks, promise to ““attend/ The weddings and burials,”” and mull the connections between mourning and rejoicing, hope and memory, lust and love. The clever title poem declares the poet’’s affections in terms drawn from a kindergarten ritual; a surprising pantoum tells a story about ““a blind girl in Paris.”” Some of his best works are compressed narratives: ““Tale of the Garret,”” for example, updates a familiar fable in order to ask how the airy concerns of the imagination might blind us to the concrete causes for other people’’s pain. Dischell (Dig Safe) takes his metaphors from all over (anthropologists’’ ““first contact”” with primitive tribes, for example) and his sometimes dysphemistic cadences from such gritty inventors as Charles Simic: his figures of speech may shock (““I went to kiss/ The cat-tongue rough/ Of her each bent knee””), but his core concerns are down-to-earth. Dischell’’s sometimes gruff (and always brief) poems ask where dejection and affection can manage to keep each other in good company——if not for a lifetime, at least for a page or two. (Oct.)
Dischell, Stuart. BACKWARDS DAYS Penguin. (Penguin Poets). 2007. ISBN 978-0-14-311255-6. pap. $16. POETRY
Review by Fred Muratori
The poems in Dischell's fifth collection (after Dig Safe ) conjure a disembodied consciousness aspiring to define itself in a spectral, melancholy universe: "The cities were anonymous/ The problems generic/ And the people who lived/ Out their lives did nothing/ Remarkable." Time is marked by "Days of ritual and small gestures," and if human contact occurs at all, it's precariously carried out over great distances--"And we were/ Voice to voice/ Below the orbiting/ Satellites, I/ In the parking lot/ And you by the sea"--subject to being "cut off in a region of lost signals." Loners traverse neglected or sparsely drawn landscapes with forgotten purpose ("No place to rush or anyone to fool./ No words interfered with that rhythm"), trapped between irretrievable pasts and impossible futures. Like Paul Verlaine and other French symbolists, Dischell favors shade over color, and his modest dashes of irony and surrealism create a noirish sense of intrigue. Though these hermetic poems at first seem glancing, almost parenthetical, they suggest a larger, troubled text, invisible, perhaps unwritten, but no less vital--or human--for that. Recommended for large collections. --Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
Copyright Booklist Publications Oct 1, 2007
Backwards Days. By Stuart Dischell. Oct. 2007. 8Op. Penguin, paper, $16 (97801431 12556). 811.
It's hard to tell whether Dischell is a comic poet with a serious side or a serious poet with a comic side. In terms of percentages, he leans toward the former-offering heavy doses of whimsy, satire, and a sense of the absurd worthy of Groucho Marx. But in this new collection the balance shifts, subtly, toward more somber reflections (especially on lost loves and other connections that prove ephemeral) bordering on the elegiac. It may be stretching the point to say that Dischell's insistence on having fun is purely reflexive, or just there to paper over his pain-he lacks the bitterness of gallows humor-but at times it can seem studied if not strategic. Certainly he drops the shtick more frequently here than in earlier books, often settling for unanswerable metrics, sonic music, and endings like thunderclaps. In "House and Highway," for example, we find an old well choked with weeds: "The rusted bell without its tongue / Can still be sounded with a stone." - Kevin Nance
Poet's Choice Washington Post
By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, December 23, 2007
For each person, one utterance is so loaded with associations that it cannot be heard objectively: our own name. The ancient Roman poet Catullus used his name in poems, as did the 15th-century Frenchman Villon. More recently, Alan Dugan (1923-2003) began a poem "Dugan's deathward, darling." Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979), in her "In the Waiting Room," wrote: "you are an I,/you are an Elizabeth,/you are one of them."
Possibly the most moving use of a poet's own name in English poetry is Ben Jonson's "On My First Son":
Farewell, thou child of my right hand, and joy;
My sin was too much hope of thee, loved boy.
Seven years thou wert lent to me, and I thee pay,
Exacted by thy fate, on the just day.
O, could I lose all father, now! For why
Will man lament the state he should envy,
To have so soon 'scaped world's and flesh's rage,
And, if no other misery, yet age!
Rest in soft peace; and, asked, say: Here doth lie
Ben Jonson his best piece of poetry --
For whose sake, henceforth, all his vows be such,
As what he loves may never like too much.
Jonson seems to associate his name with temporal and personal things: his work and reputation as a poet, even his role as father and his pleasure in the child -- all the personal attachments he vows to rise above, for some superior but unattained, impersonal form of love.
Stuart Dischell, in his new book, Backwards Days, writes an artful and striking variation on this theme:
In the Manner of SD
The day that I found art in my first name
Was the same day I saw hell in my last.
There was a girl there, of course, --
Touching a wet finger
To a postage stamp,
Pursing her lips
On the double bed.
I went to kiss
The cat-tongue rough
Of her each bent knee.
I was weak then, not yet a liar.
One of us had said,
What we do is our own business.
Then we broke the windows
And looted the store.
The way the last two lines revise and challenge the preceding phrase "our own business" does, indeed, exemplify "the manner of SD," with its playful yet implacable stripping away of self-justification. (His poem "Days of Me," in an earlier book, is a masterpiece of self-manifestation ridiculed by self-deprecation.) Here, Dischell compresses a lot of narrative -- and much understanding -- into fewer than a hundred words. His poem teases and expands notions of personality and impersonality, the hellish and artful qualities of being a many-sided but particular person called by an identifying name.
(Ben Jonson's poem "On My First Son" can be found in "English Renaissance Poetry: A Collection of Shorter Poems from Skelton to Jonson," edited by John Williams. Edwards Brothers. Copyright 1963 and 1990 by John Williams. Stuart Dischell's "In the Manner of SD" can be found in "Backwards Days." Penguin . Copyright 2007 by Stuart Dischell.)
SELECTED REVIEWS OF DIG SAFE
This is an immensely sane book, yet it is in touch with the absurd: jokey, credulous, a little cockeyed. Some of these poems read like fables, some like dreamy elegies. This poet has discovered how to be at once endearing and startlingly honest, cultivating a desultory tone that belies its own reckless expression of the felt life.
Carol Muske-Dukes, The Los Angeles Times
The cornerstone of this review must be saved for Stuart Dischell and his volume of poetry, “Dig Safe.” His poetry is witty, precise and fully engaging. Without pretense or faux academic bunting, he connects with the reader in a manner that can only help widen the circle of American letters.
Arthur McMaster, The Tampa Tribune
Stuart Dischell writes in a way that makes us pleasantly uncomfortable and a bit more aware of life’s pitfalls. Everywhere we go in his politely subversive book, we encounter thoughts and feelings that lurk just under the surface of our daily lives. We never know what we’ll find next, but that this ucertainty can give meaning and vitality to our lives. Maybe it’s impossible to “dig safe,” but who would have it any other way.
Peter Thorpe, Rocky Mountain News
Stuart Dischell is very much an artist of the present tense, making poetry out of everyday life in his fourth collection, Dig Safe, summoning up quick, magically right metaphors.
Ken Tucker, The Baltimore Sun
Dischell is a master of nuance, of subtle discoveries of mood and feeling, a lover of landscapes and of landscape paining, a connoisseur of tangential moments of life...Dischell is ever aware of what is underneath the visual surfaces surrounding occasion and what histories have preceded any instant of time.
Fred Chappell, Raleigh News and Observer
From The Washington Post's Book World/washingtonpost.com
By Edward Hirsch
There's a deep sweetness in the way that Stuart Dischell, a romantic poet with a funny bone, returns to the past in his three books: Good Hope Road (1993), Evenings & Avenues (1996) and Dig Safe (2003). The latter, his most recent collection, is his best to date -- its title derives from the brightly colored warning signs that construction workers spray paint on sidewalks and roadways: "Steam rising from the coffee and exhalations/ Of workers on break around a manhole cover,/ The abbreviated utilities scribbled in Dig Safe" ("Crooked Wood"). Dischell cleverly employs the term "Dig Safe" as the reigning metaphor of the book, as both a wish and a command, for how one might settle down and delve inward, approaching the treacheries of one's own past, the hard turning wheel of time lost and found and lost again. We're going to the erotic underground -- the underworld -- of a male psyche, and it's as if he's sending regards ("be well, dig safe") as we enter the danger zone where necessary but potentially hazardous psychological work always gets done.
Dischell's discursive lyrics have a light touch and a serious undertow. They have the jaunty quality of recollection, of trying to recall the past as honestly as possible, reporting back from the front. One thinks of them as invocations that come from the wide, middle regions of life, which is to say that they have a kind of equanimity about them. His particular way of approaching a subject, his strategy of attack, seems influenced by C. K. Williams and Robert Pinsky. It is close kin, say, to Carl Dennis and Tony Hoagland, both of whom also have a neighborly way of piercing the inner mysteries and taking up -- taking on -- the social world.
Dischell's poems typically operate by summoning the past, rather than simply inhabiting it, as so many traditional lyrics seem to do. Thus one poem characteristically begins: "Trying to remember what it was like to live/ Here and how it was I used to feel and fit/ Into those days -- like a convict in the movies/ I have come back to put on my old clothes" ("The Report"). "My memory is an upright sweeping back . . .," he continues. "A man would be a scarecrow in a birdless field." Another commences: "Hey it's been fourteen years since that summer/ We drove the little green Citroën out of Paris/ Through Lyon to the blue coast and went Mediterranean,/ Wearing no or little clothes, dozing in the bedchairs,/ The naked democracy of the beach, appreciating the sun/ Who was now making famous European love" ('The Squanderers").
There's an antic strain humming through Dischell's writing -- "When people say they miss me,/ I think how much I miss me too,/ Me, the old me, the great me" ("Days of Me") -- but his underlying subject is loss, which is what gives his poems their poignancy. "A Tenant at Will" provides a strong example of how his sensibility works:
A Tenant at Will
I no longer live on Linnaean Street
Where I watched the others going to work
As I drank coffee and smoked a pipe,
Inventing my current existence.
I was not bothered by the phone much.
No credit cards and little to bank.
My typewriter had just gone electric.
Nights I returned after drink and talk
To the punctuation of the white spark
On the trackless trolley wire.
And the slow-moving populace of summer
And the naked sub-lessee
In the lamplight flossing her teeth
Whether I looked or not were there.
Honks and voices and stereo speakers.
Those were the windows of that life.
Some faced a courtyard, the others a street.
I would like to visit who lives there now,
See how my face remains there framed.
By Edward Hirsch
Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.
SELECTED REVIEWS OF EVENINGS & AVENUES
From AGNI BY GEORGE WELD
Stuart Dischell sketches with so light a hand it's easy to miss the fact that Evenings and Avenues, his second book of poems, is a book of ideas, not impressions. The gem-like poems of the book return to a handful of considerations: the price of happiness, of fantasy, of relationships; the place of the self in the world; the definition of home; and the meaning of boundaries. These knotty subjects aren't pushed to the fore, however, and at the beginning of the book, they're the last things one expects to confront. The opening poem is the somewhat mysteriously titled "Ellipsis, Third or Fourth Dot, Depending." The poem's opening is as funny, if more direct: "'All my life I wanted to join the carnival. / I would be happy there upon the midway, / Tearing the heads off chickens.'" The poem is one of Dischell's justly famous monologues, and it takes off in a sort of loopy ecstasy as the speaker imagines himself as carnival freak, opera singer, sundial, sky, flower child, wall: all things, he says, he has wanted to be all his life. The poem ends on a Whitmanesque note, but without Whitman's grandiosity. Dischell's speaker is sincere, but campy, someone we like most at a distance-someone we're happy to indulge when he concludes:
- 'And I have wanted to be my neighborhood,
My block, my building. I have wanted
To be this city where I live, to walk down
The avenues of myself, whistling a tune
Through all the people that look like me.'
The character wants to be both central, the object of attention (as opera singer, sundial) and universal and immanent (as sky or neighborhood). It's easy to write off his desires as dreamy and peculiar at first, but they are desires that recur more and more emphatically throughout the book. Themes and images hold this volume together on an abstract level; concretely, the book is unified by a series of poems entitled "Evening." The first of these opens with a more serious-sounding evocation of the expansiveness of the first poem. "For an hour or two the evening has no limits," Dischell writes, describing a feeling of twilit well-being and nostalgia. It's as convincing a poem about a moment of complete contentment as Stevens' "A Rabbit as King of the Ghosts," continuing:
- The evening has no limits and the streets go on
What could be forever, linking cities and outposts;
Suburbs that were villages separated by farms
Have merged the way they once were forested.
What it means to be alive has never troubled you.
Strange as you are you have always felt this welcome.
And like the Stevens poem, "Evening" hints at a darkness barely held off. One sort of darkness is made explicit in the next poem, "Morning by the Sea," which opens, "The atrocities of the last world war / Mean little at the moment she smooths / Her blanket on the shore." Dischell is interested in our abdication of general responsibility for the sake of personal contentment, and ironic scenes like this one recur fairly frequently in these poems. More interesting, though, are Dischell's explorations of individuals' responsibility to one another, as in the poem "Explorations": "It's the staying that has brought him trouble, / The building of others' expectations, neighbors / And bosses, lovers who thought he'd keep till / Morning." Over and over, Dischell writes about characters who have let people down, characters who are rootless or loveless, trying to eke out a little happiness in the evenings of their lives; or people whose fantasies steer them away from real human contact. There is the divorcé who dreams of his adolescence, of spending his summers surfing; the writer who has grown old in his garret ("All those years believing you were the spider, / But you were merely the web, / Attracting what life you could"); the ubiquitous idealist ("She was still her parents' girl, living home, / Helping out. She was always the one. She believed / In her soul, in birthday parties, in feathers and drums."). These sad characters are so common in the poems that they don't seem to be the objects of judgment; they're the scenery of a world view.
Dischell's weaker poems can feel a little precious or rarefied. Though it's often interesting to see someone working in so denigrated a mode as allegory or fantasy, sometimes the poems end as riddles, closing out the reader. Also, Dischell has an unnerving tendency to be somewhat prodigal with meter. He seems, at times, to treat rhythms almost arbitrarily-to make a waltz out of a line here, drop an utterly flat one there. For the bulk of "Morning by the Sea," for instance, the rhythms are casually unobtrusive and varied, with no pattern or cadence asserting itself over the natural unfolding of the lines. The poem is jolted out of this naturalness midway through, however, by the pronounced lilt of these lines: "Behind fences and porches, in the pastel houses, / The pale food of morning is served at the table." And these lines, in the poem "People Who Talk to Themselves," conclude a paragraph of otherwise varied and interesting verse:
- But here they assemble in parks and on corners,
Offering their opinions, grievances, enthusiasms,
Their limitless orations on topics of race and gender,
Not unlike Shelley's 'unacknowledged legislators.'
This feels almost aggressively flat, and one fishes around in vain to find some theoretical justification for it-or at least a good joke in it. Aside from these few notes, Evenings and Avenues is an interesting book of well-made poems. Dischell's imagination is broad, and he reinvigorates forms of fantasy like the allegory and the fairy tale with rare confidence. Moreover, the book sparks with intelligence and wit, sadness and beauty. One of the last poems is one of the best; it shows off Dischell's gift gracefully. Short enough to quote entire and beautiful enough to end on, it is called "Psalm":
- When the dove of whom there is no memory fell into
We were uncreated, oh yeah, we were speechless before
There were no words to be sung on the water without
Lord had shown his preference for his serpents and his
Into the depths we drowned, the familial and the animal,
Paired on the deck of our craft going round.
Into depths we drowned and we were lost among us.
The opened cages, our bodies starving in the sun.
SELECTED REVIEWS OF GOOD HOPE ROAD
From Publishers Weekly
Inspired by life in Atlantic City, N.J., in the '50s, this debut book won the 1991 National Poetry Series competition. "Apartments," the series of poems that makes up its first half, is rather familiar fare, presenting the residents of each dwelling in the context of their fears, dreams and, most of all, their losses. While the woman portrayed in "Wishes" "wishes she were older / Or younger, wishes the sky were a little calmer, / That it wouldn't rain on her driving errands, / That she wasn't so late for her appointment," the man in "Hates" "hates the bosses and oppressors, / Votes only for losing candidates, / Knows that he will never be president / Or arrive at anyone's concept of heaven." The more intimate and personal second half of the book, "Household Gods," features writing that is better modulated, albeit heavily influenced by the work of Robert Lowell (in childhood, "I was Cortez. I was Balboa. I was any / Fool in bushclothes and a monocle, / Preposterous as the rocks were ponderous"). Yet Dischell sometimes creates beautifully spare language: "He remembers the dark street and the sun / just rising. Beloved demimonde, / That life is gone. In his hand / The crescent moon of a broken saucer, / A torn admission to the domestic theatre. / Under his hat the memory of stars."
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Selected by Thomas Lux as one of the five 1991 "National Poetry" series winners, Dischell's first full-length book of poems moves deftly between domestic and surrealistic modes, from somber, plain-spoken portraits of solitary apartment dwellers ("His life seems dull so he tells a friend's story/ As if it were his own") to the blink-and-they're-gone visions of "Magic Fathers" ("One appears in a snowstorm just as you're worrying/ how you will get home"), to the subtle blending of both styles in the autobiographical "Sand" ("Working obliquely and from time to time,/ I have written this poem by ignoring it"). In synthesizing the dominant poetic strains of the 1970s with those of the 1980s, Dischell achieves an unpredictability that creates anticipation with each new page. A delightfully deceptive debut.
- Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, N.Y.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.
FROM BOSTON REVIEW
GOOD HOPE ROAD
by David St. John
For those us who have long admired Stuart Dischell's poetry, the publication of Good Hope Road, his first book-length collection (chosen by Tom Lux as a selection in The National Poetry Series) is a cause for real celebration. In a time when much of our poetry seems to spring full-blown from the self-congratulatory and self-absorbed confessions of tell-all talk shows or, at the other extreme, from the most airless and bloodless pages of literary theory, a book like Good Hope Road arrives like a tonic, filled as it is with carefully crafted poems reflecting the complex conditions of human experience and emotion.
The first section of Good Hope Road, entitled "Apartments," is comprised of twelve poems which form a loose but harmonic sequence. Each of the poems has a protagonist referred to as "he" or "she." We soon discover, however, that those pronouns are refracted over time, situation, and age to reveal disparate aspects of those seemingly anonymous selves. In each of the poems from this sequence, the "he" or "she" emerges as a singular figure, a true character in all senses of the word, caught in the particular (and often peculiar) purgatory of his or her own life, even a little stunned at times by the nature of their own special states of limbo. Slowly, around each of these anonymous pronouns, the details of experience and the reflective movements of narrative quietly coalesce, until we are left with a portrait that is rich, moving, and surprising.
Dischell is superb at showing us the poignant secrets behind the masks of these pronouns. His characters, often trapped in the paradoxical fluctuations of their own thoughts, are driven both from and into their own solitude by their awkwardness, their self-consciousness, and the persistence of their desires. As they stumble and stutter across the world's stage, used by others, confronted by daily indignities and cruelties, often crippled by their own passions and personal histories, Dischell's figures reveal to us how much we are like the anonymous "he" and "she" of these poems. Yet, what strikes me as highly unusual is that Dischell is unwilling to make any special or arrogant claims for the idea of the self. Instead, we find the absurdity and presumptions of selfhood mocked everywhere, as in the marvelously witty poem "Buddies," with its two friends who are both named Jerry and who tell each other's stories as if they were their own. One of the buddies tells his wife, "Our lives are a joke, and we Jerrys are its comedians."
It's difficult to convey the subtle eccentricities of these poems. There is a generosity and expansiveness to Stuart Dischell's vision of "the human comedy" (as William Saroyan called it) that allows us, as readers, to recognize and forgive the foibles of his characters -- and our own as well. It's hard work being a serious comedian of the human spirit, but Dischell never lets us down. Listen to the opening of the poem, "Plans":
She plans to be a writer one day and live in the City of Paris,
Where she will describe the sun as it rises over Buttes-Chaumont.
"Today the dawn began in small pieces, sharp wedges of light
Broke through the clouds." She plans to write better than this
And is critic enough to know "sharp wedges" sound like cheese.
Dischell is also tremendously deft in his handling of tone. His poems are both colloquial and measured, as if we were at a bar listening to a slightly overeducated mechanic telling us what is, after all, a very tender story. The limpid ease of these poems often masks the truly complex and conflicted states of mind of their subjects. Here, for example, is the conclusion of the marvelous poem, "Wishes":
She wishes she were older
Or younger, wishes the sky were a little calmer,
That it wouldn't rain on her driving errands,
That she wasn't so late for her appointment,
That the car's problem was really only the cables,
That it could be summer faster, that what she had been
Waiting for all her life would finally begin to happen,
That she would know it when it was happening.
And that when it happened it would not disappoint her, ever.
In the book's second section, entitled "Household Gods," Stuart Dischell carefully trains his lens on somewhat more personalized vistas. The poems here reflect episodes of familial and domestic transformation and loss. There is a startling innocence in many of these poems, a refusal to move towards the kind of conventional cynicism that we expect to be associated with these subjects. To my mind, it is a refusal that necessitates great courage and an enormous capacity for forgiveness. The section also includes two remarkable dramatic monologues, "The Message" and "The Chamber." In each of these powerful poems, we discover that their lucid and self-isolating speakers have willfully removed themselves from the world, that is, from our world. These are truly chilling poems.
Whether charting the youthful indulgence of self-dramatization and self-display, coupled with the difficult process of growing into "oneself," as in the superb poem "Mirrors and Shadows," or instead celebrating the peculiar resolve and need to move that we like to think of as being especially American, as in the title poem, "Good Hope Road," Stuart Dischell reminds us of our need to give ourselves a break. As that poem suggests, we might even join him along those journeys our lives make, however comic their few triumphs and however self-deluded their dreams. Still, Dischell knows, the steady engine of our silly and marvelous lives remains our own willingness to entertain those same lasting dreams, those few sustaining hopes:
Nevertheless, having said what I have said
About where I have been, strap on my back
or steering wheel in my hands, in the not
Yet risen dawn of another earthbound day,
I will set out again down that same road,
My hope companionable among the
Good Hope Road
Poems by Stuart Dischell. Viking, $20.00 cloth. Reviewed by Joyce Peseroff.
While fretting over "environmental destruction," an old man faces his own mortality. A woman waiting for a tow truck wishes she were older or younger, "that what she had been / Waiting for all her life would finally begin to happen." A supermarket manager resists broadcasting family problems "as if he were announcing a special on Fig Newtons." In his wise and empathetic first book, poet Stuart Dischell, through a variety of portraits and dramatic monologues, parses these singular voices from the sentence of human desire, illustrating how, as Michel de Montaigne wrote, "each man bears the entire form of man's estate."
Dischell teases secrets from everyday speech through scenes that begin with the ordinary and end in epiphany. Here is the would-be hero of "The Genius," who daydreams about pulling children from a fiery bus (or rescuing the Nobel committee): ". . . He feels he should have saved / His father from creditors and suicide / At fifty. 'Dad,' he says as he prizes / The old man's coffin, 'skeletons come alive.' " Just as the child's voice erupts in the poem's final lines, dependence and loss emerge from repression. Dischell knows how to put quirks of language to narrative use, as when the speaker in "The Bulletin Board" refers to his ex-girlfriend as "the other her." His accurate ear cherishes the voice of the storyteller while respecting the narratives people forge to frame their lives. When one of two buddies named Jerry appropriates the other's story, all hell breaks loose: ". . . at parties where neither is invited / Discussions break into fisticuffs and furniture / Gets smashed."
"Good Hope Road: America remains in your phrasing," Dischell writes in the collection's title poem, its homage to Whitman qualified by evidence that nowadays the open road also leads to the used car lot. More genial than cynical, Stuart Dischell's poems acknowledge the cramp of each individual's narrow place in the world. As the character in "Buddies" whose story is usurped tells his wife, "In the scheme of things / Our lives are a joke and we Jerrys are its comedians."
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