Thursday, March 29, 2018

Reckon by Steve McOrmond

Steve McOrmond’s new poetry collection Reckon with Brick Books attempts to shake readers out of a modern malaise filled with Big Gulps and 911 calls, storm warnings and sitcoms, packages of lozenges and the “fake” cheeriness of others. Like the snowflakes magnified on the book’s cover, a reference to McOrmond's poem “The Photographer of Snowflakes”, these poems hold seemingly mundane moments up to the light to show how they are anything but familiar.

The first poem “Pastoral” sets the stage for the whole collection as it finds poetry in “the lavender notes of a Glade plug-in” and “a refrigerator on defrost, chirping like crickets in a field.” It depicts nature, a “raccoon lurking in the alcove outside my front door”, interacting with an indifferent city whose “parkway is congested, as always” and whose buildings downtown are “decapitated by fog”.

Notable poems in the volume are many. I am partial to the poem “I Want To Love More” which really encapsulates how the poet McOrmond pushes back against run-amok corporate capitalism and its anaesthetizing effects on people. Here is an excerpt:

To admit that at dawn the city is nearly adorable,
Rubbing sleep from its eyes. The shoe repair guy
Flips the sign in the window, lugs a five-foot-tall
Red fiberglass cowboy boot to the curb.
The barista stifles a yawn. Above it all,
The crane operator has the best seat in the house.
To grasp before I go what any kindergarten
Teacher knows: you can make anything
With glitter, hearts, and glue…..
……My mixture
Isn’t right; I can never quite shake
The loneliness of living in this serene republic,
The longing that nests in the names
Of racehorses: Waiting on a Woman, Dusty Lane
Galaxy, Escape The News, Nurse Thy Bitterness.
Oh I do. Black coffee, dry toast on a chipped plate.

(from “I Want To Love More”)

This is simply first-rate writing. Other stand-outs from the collection are “For the Beauty of Winona Ryder” and “Pure Outrage”. In the wake of Facebook’s data-breach, a poem like “We Like You For This” feels especially pertinent speaking to a surveillance state who wishes to know the very minutiae of everyone's life in the way the poem catechizes rapid-fire questions:

The evidence is circumstantial. We can neither confirm
nor deny. Do you know your fanily history? Are you prone
to mental infirmity? Have you ever been confined
in a prison or similar institution? Does God communicate
with you through visions? How’s that
working out for you? Have you suffered? Would you say
you have a tendency to aestheticize suffering?

(From “We Like You For This”)

Steve McOrmond is not so much staring into the abyss as he is a modern witness searching for the source code that underlies sad songs, all-inclusive vacations, office cubicles, Rorschach tests and over-worked waitresses. His brand new collection Reckon is out from Brick Books and can be purchased at your local book-store.

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