3 out of 4 stars
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Poetry: The Four Lives is the title of Nicholas Pak’s first, and only, book of poems. A highly introspective collection, it covers a wide spectrum of emotions, such as happiness, hope, love, grief, anger, and despair. These poems are Pak’s beloved creations, i.e., the written products of his life experiences as someone who is suffering from cystic fibrosis (which is a genetic disease that we currently have no cure for).
Weighing in at only 98 pages, Poetry: The Four Lives is a very short but poignant read. In fact, knowing that Pak succumbed to his condition before being able to publish his book (his mother, Colleen Marshall, is now publishing this book on his behalf) only amplified the rawness of emotion present in these poems.
Pak is certainly a talented poet – his ability to draw out in the reader a variety of emotions is unparalleled, and this left me absolutely astounded. In addition, he does not require specific background contexts in order to put his points across. What I mean by this is that Pak possesses an uncanny ability to link one’s sense of the mundane to the intangible. To better illustrate, in “Legend”, Pak compares the fame and renown musicians (such as Jimi Hendrix and John Lennon) receive from people to the literal stars themselves. In other words, by drawing a link between these two senses, Pak has inextricably connected the transient nature of fame, of short human lives (which are pinpricks in the long course of history), to the steady and unchanging permanence of never-ending natural cycles that make up Nature itself.
Furthermore, Pak is not afraid to explore his own emotional psyche, even in the face of a debilitating disease like cystic fibrosis. Poems like “Shadow’s Road”, “Bleed”, “Now, and Then Again”, and “The Sky is Still Blue” all possess a common thread of grief. He unhesitatingly examines his own mindset and is brave enough to face all of his misgivings and fears. I found this both inspiring and impressive – if I were in Pak’s shoes, I highly doubt my own ability to portray the same level of courage that he has shown in his collection. Moreover, I do think that Pak’s display of fortitude will inspire and enlighten many.
Nonetheless, the collection would vastly benefit from some organisation and structure. Currently, the poems are not arranged in any order/theme; hence, the reader’s emotions unavoidably fluctuate heavily. One poem could be about love, and the very next one could be about grief. Personally, from an emotional perspective, this fluctuation can be rather exhausting – it would be good to arrange these poems according to various emotional themes like anger, hope, love, et cetera.
There are also a few minor grammar errors present, such as missing possessive apostrophes. However, they do not detract from the flow and comprehensibility of the book. To conclude, I rate Nicholas Pak’s Poetry: The Four Lives 3 out of 4 stars, with one star subtracted due to the lack of organisation. It is a highly ruminative read, and it is definitely one that would help readers look deeper into their own psyches to hopefully engage in self-reflection. Lovers of poetry and those who desire to further develop their emotional maturity would definitely love this book.
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