Of Whiskey and Winter
White Pine Press, $15 (paper)
What’s remarkable about Peter Conners’s collection of prose poems is its affection for the unbeautiful, the wonder it discovers on the margins of the natural world. The opening of “Garbage of the Glittering Sun,” for example, evokes the earthy compounds of Walt Whitman’s diction: “Gentrified dog turds are the stucco of spring. I am wealthy beyond your ken: muddy vistas are my orchards squeezing liters of salt wine per loose clump.” Conners follows consciousness moment to moment, embracing the strangeness of the physical and metaphysical landscape, the harshness concomitant with its consolation. Divided into four sections, the book moves through journeying perceptions of a calendar year and uses the seasons as a measure of vision and inner experience. Describing a lengthy stretch of north-country opaque weather in “Twenty-Six Days of Sun,” the speaker pensively reflects on mortality and literal darkness as he waits in a veterinarian’s office to euthanize his cat. Then the lines take a startling and mordant turn: “I think: Was I born here? Has my cat taken me here to die instead? If that is the case so be it: five months without sun is too much to take. My son will take me to the woods and leave me to die. It is the cycle we have unwittingly joined.” At their best, these poems do what good prose poems traditionally do: substitute interesting elements of narrative, concentrated meditation, and surrealistic parable for the conspicuous absence of line. At times, though, one wishes that Conners’s brief meditations would transcend the boundaries of plaintive personal writing. A two-sentence text like “But Not Today” feels more like a tender journal entry than a crafted poem. The poet writes about strolling with his young son, envisioning the school bus as a kind of portent: “I walk with Whitman over a bed of sad potato chips giggling at the music of mutinous early autumn. One day the yellow buses will carry us away…” Conners often proves himself capable of much richer, more visionary images than these, and so one sometimes wishes he would not allow himself to get carried away, but that he would take the wheel instead.