11 May 2009

Daphne and Jim by Laurel Snyder

Daphne and Jim: A choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse. Being a close examination of linear narrative, unexpected detail, and the forgotten art of context clues. By Laurel Snyder Burnside Review Press, 2005. 26 pages, $6. Winner, Annual Poetry Chapbook Contest. Reviewed by Emily Scudder 'This is an arithmetic. Of inaccuracies. This begins in California. We’ll add to it later. But first a preface. “This can’t be true,” says a critic, an uncle, “Tuesday has to follow Monday. Always-"' In Daphne and Jim: A choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse, Laurel Snyder is not interested in Tuesday following Monday. I like this. The reader roams the lives of two young lovers and too-soon-to-be parents, through Snyder’s purposefully non-chronological sequencing of poems that mirror well the way life in relationship feels, both linear and circular. We are introduced to Daphne and Jim, young students at Pomona College in the late 1960s, and from then on, are given the choice at the bottom of each page, after the poem, where to next visit them : 'To quit school, pack up and move East with Jim, turn to page 12 To follow Daphne, fall in love with David instead, turn to page 26' Sometimes there are no choices for the reader. Sometimes there are no choices for Daphne and Jim, as after the poem titled “Wedding plans: Baltimore, MD, 1973.” 'There are no choices. Turn to Page 22' Snyder’s approach is participatory, yet there is never a question as to who is in control of the narrative. Her poems are concise, without a wasted word. Her stanzas are short, and verse free. She explores complicated emotions, without succumbing to the temptation to unnecessarily complicate her language, such as in her poems about abortion: “Birds-eye view of what happens: The Laurel Clinic, DC, 1973 – part I": 'There are things you do, the things you don’t, the things you can do, but don’t – and then there are the things you just can’t do. Daphne can’t. The stirrups are cold and the walls are yellow.' And in “Birds-eye view of the discussion in a diner: Baltimore, 1973 – part II": 'She wants someone else to say the thing. She doesn’t want to say the word, call the word into the room like a dog. It’s an ugly word. Daphne hates ugly. There’s no sun in the ugly things. There’s no beauty in the hole she wants to make. She wants Jim to make it.' At the bottom of the page the reader’s choices are: 'To see how Daphne deals, turn to page 15 To see how Jim deals, turn to page 14' Reading Daphne and Jim is an active process. I followed Daphne, then Jim. I read the poems in order, then last to first. I was not once disappointed. Daphne and Jim: A choose-your-own-adventure biography in verse is exactly that – an adventure in choice.