4 out of 4 stars
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Where Truth Lies is Bill Christophersen’s fourth published collection of poetry. The volume has sixty poems divided into three sections, with two individual poems sitting outside these sections and bookending the collection. The first section, which carries the title of the book, consists of thirteen poems. The second section, ‘Breaking the News’, is the shortest part of the book with nine poems, while ‘Still Life with Soaking Dentures’ contains thirty-eight poems. In the first standalone poem, ‘City of Crystal’, a caver descends into an underground cavern and is left marveling at the beauty of the quartz formations he finds. The final poem, ‘The Seafarer’ is a translation of an elegiac Anglo-Saxon poem in which an old man contemplates the life he has spent navigating the seas and laments the passing of his youth.
In this collection, we find the poet facing up to some difficult life issues. His father’s illness and death feature in three poems in the ‘Still Life with Soaking Dentures’ section, with memories of him recalled in another two. Other poems deal with the passing of time and intimations of mortality. In ‘New Year’s Eve’ he writes of ‘the crescendo of anxiety that comes with knowing things / are winding down.’ (p98) ‘Cicadas’ has the narrator lying in bed, experiencing ‘waves of panic glasses of warm milk / won’t assuage, cool compresses won’t quell.’ (p88)
This awareness of time passing seems to prompt an assessment of his life. In ‘The Wheel’, the longest poem in the collection, he looks back on the path he has chosen. He has remained single, unlike the other guys who ‘strapped themselves into something tight: / marriage, mortgage, long commutes.’ (p21) His commitment has been to music and poetry. He makes a strong defense of poetry in the poem with that name as if to head-off any notion that writing poetry is no way to spend a life. We need poets, he argues, because ‘We want our lives to matter. We are loath / to see them thrown under the bus, untold.’ (p40)
Christophersen delivers these grand themes with his usual eclectic style. His formalism finds expression in sonnets, haikus, and quatrains but there is also room for the humorous free verse of ‘If Your Dog Eats Grass, Do This’. He has the true wordsmith’s love of forgotten or unusual expressions. So, we get lines like: ‘Is all this mortal foofaraw a joke?’ (p45) as well as ‘the dicker and chuff of an invisible world.’ (p38) There is his characteristic juxtaposition of diverse images; in ‘Where Truth Lies’, a rat’s claw poking out from a forgotten trap behind the stove contrasts with the moving solemnity of the final bugle-call at a veteran’s funeral.
There is also the poet’s lightly-carried erudition which he uses to describe and explain everyday situations. In ‘Wind-Chill Factor’, for example, he can mention Dante’s ninth circle in one stanza while simultaneously describing a New York street-scene: ‘The plate-glass bus shelter on 125th lies in smithereens, so / there’s no respite. Nearby doorway’s full of huddlers. / The wind finds an ear canal and drills. Factor that!’
There is nothing I could find to dislike about this thoughtful, humane, and life-affirming collection of poems. The book has been exceptionally well-edited and I came across no grammar mistakes or typos. There are one or two low-end swear words which shouldn’t cause offense and nothing at all of a sexual nature to worry about. I am happy to award this book 4 out of 4 stars and to recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading high-quality modern poetry.
Where Truth Lies
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