by Simon Pettet
Talisman House Publishers, Jersey City, New Jersey, 2008,
178 pages, paper, $17.95,
ISBN: 9781584980612
Buy the Book

“I’m a madman poet and I / love my psychiatric nurse.” So goes the first stanza of the poem, “Poem.”  Many poems in this volume, which, as the poet Alice Notley said, “The complete

works so far of contemporary American and British poetry’s most meticulous craftsperson,” are simply titled “Poem,” in the manner of a visual artist who merely names his pieces “Untitled.”

Many poems have an art house filmic quality to them, as if stills from a film without any real defining narrative plot were plucked from the viewer’s memory and projected upon a blank screen, or in the case of Pettet, a blank page.  These poems are full of unresolved notions and observations that pique the reader’s interest in how the poem might end or why it might not, drifting off openended, waiting for us to surmise:

          the music
          loud the t.v.
          on and downstairs
          someone cooking

Think of a linear string of nonsequiturs eventually forming a circle to make perfect sense.  (I’m reminded of a refrain from a favorite song of mine, Chelsea Hotel, by Alejandro Escovedo: “And it makes no sense / And it makes perfect sense.”)  Notice how this happens in this poem: “The telepathic schizophrenic / Who suddenly appears / in Doctor Ehrenwald’s office // Is not the same as the / Tall thin West African / Who rapped upon your door, dear, Tuesday morning // Discoursing on sciencefiction haiku / And promising the secrets / of Pythagorian mathematics // (that was someone else).”  (10)

There’s a multitude of imagistic gems to be found among these poems, such as this first stanza from the poem, “Two Poems For  Frank Sherlock”: “As the lightning bolt strikes the snow, / the little mountain goat (with the bell / fastened around its neck) / rings.”

Most of the poems are short and many possess a haiku sensibility. Take the poem, “The Hermit”: “The elderly, bearded, cloak / ed figure with the lamp // and the downcast face / moves gingerly / over the stony ground.”

Pettet’s poems are a pleasure to read full of humor, wit, koanish confoundations, and abundant with a masterful and deft sense of spacing and line breaks.  I leave you with some lines from the top left corner of page 55: “In brown smoke stain / I summon the spirit of Paul Verlaine / Crouched at a corner table / Fixated upon an absinthe label.”

Wayne Atherton