31 March 2009

Mr. Gravity's Blue Holiday by Justin Lacour

Mr. Gravity’s Blue Holiday By Justin Lacour The Providence Athenaeum, $5 Winner, 2004 Philbrick Poetry Award Reviewed by Laurie Rosenblatt Even if John Ashbery hadn’t written the blurb on the back of this chapbook, you’d have to eat the book instead of reading it to miss the influence. So, if you hate Ashbery and can’t follow—for this reader another seeming influence—Kenneth Koch, skip it. What? Still reading? Then, don’t write Mr. Gravity’s Blue Holiday off as just another pallid imitation. Though you will find lines like these from “Rendezvous in the Anthology”: “The years had been reconfigured/ As if obscured by trapdoors,” that strike the ear as Ashbery’s often surprisingly moving absurdist-abutment-that-gets-to-meaning mode; though here we don’t get the pay-off. And a little later in the same poem we find Ashbery’s sentimental/lyric absurd, “In the fields of whiskey and starlight,” again without the sudden and surprising emotional kick-in-the-gut that Ashbery can deliver. Luckily, Lacour has an engaging voice of his own and after verbally touching his hat a few times, he capers off along its own pleasing paths. For example “Ekphrastic” begins: We both had high hopes for ironclads, Though we’d been hood winked this way Before: the desire for sudden curtsies, The promise of more affordable flagpoles. Or later in the same poem, we find the surprising, “So little ever changes,/Just the little ducks and gunboats here.” Lacour uses language play to create a bit of mist that lifts just enough to make out the landscape. For instance skipping through sonnet III: There was a small disaster with the marching band: Someone’s pet was trapped, somehow, inside the red drum, But the parade-goers tried to remain polite to us. …… I existed in a purely ceremonial capacity, ………. Then the final couplet: It was so embarrassing. If you hadn’t been there, I don’t know how I would have told you. He rewards us with the occasional laugh-out-loud abutment, or absurdly touching explanations as in these lines from “Gravity’s South,” “ Your story could be epic,/But it is hard to tell; the light is so bad here./ And I am saving my voice for now.” Lacour also gives us enticing opening lines, “If you should suddenly become a swashbuckler,” and “Though the Welsh have the worst/Sort of folklore for our situation,” or even, “Well, I don’t like the look of that cloud.” Finally Lacour has the capacity to write character through voice. With it he builds a story, or the impression of a story, about ultimately compelling and important passages in a relationship with a “you.” In the end, the poetic style of Mr. Gravity’s Blue Holiday is poorly served by excerpting, so cut Lacour a bit of slack. If any of this appeals to you, let’s say it’s worth the five dollars. Reviewed by Laurie Rosenblatt