The first official review of my latest book, “Storage Space”, has been written by John Lehman at Book Review.com. I think it is balanced and am happy with the overall critique (http://www.bookreview.com/$spindb.query.listrev...).
Here it is:
It’s unusual for the first poem in a collection to be the title of the book. Usually the poet saves that for three-quarters of the way through as a kind of vindication for what has been included, but in this case it is perfect. “We all need a little space store the things we treasure…” the poet says, whether they are valuable or we just “lack the heart to throw (them) away.” The pieces I love best are those that reveal the relationships, memories hopes and dreams that make up the poet’s life. Does that make them profound, or even relevant to the reader? Not necessarily. Stein says on the back of the book, “Poetry is irrelevant; it has no effect on the world around us, and were it to disappear, hardly anyone would notice. This does not, however, mean that poetry is untrue, for what we have learnt is that the truth itself is often, also irrelevant.”
Two poems I particularly recommend are “Toy Cars and Immortality” in which the poet watches his son play with toy cars as his father watched him do the same; and “The Curse of the Ordinary”: “When should we realize that our poems—our novels— / will never be published or that our paintings will / never be displayed— / our self-assured genius unread, unseen, / and unappreciated. / When will we stop sending entries into contests, / or letters to publishers? When do we come to / terms with the fact that we are just a teacher, / just a husband, just a father; and that is all that / we will ever be.”
These, and others of similar quality, are in the first half of the book. Those in the second tend to generalize and be more reaching, and I believe they are less successful. As Darren Stein says himself “In Passing I Said to Rikki” “the truth is made of simpler stuff.” So when I read poems like “Lost” or “Mists” I want specifics. I want to experience the feeling of being lost, or close my eyes and see the face that haunts the writer, not understand the poems’ themes. I don’t like poems that end in “Why?” such as “Here and Now—Now and Then” or shaped poetry like “An African Picture Postcard” (though that may be a matter of individual taste). And some poems have both wonderful lines and those that clunk: “We carry with us rooms of ghosts— (from “A Fear of Ghosts and Distance,” what a fantastic title) is followed half way down the same poem by “Will we always hide behind this mask of words…” (which seems to me terribly clichéd).
Often when I read a book of poetry I dog-leg pages I want to come back to. For one reason or another I have dog-legged more than half this book. Don’t worry Darren, your poems will be read and re-read. You are not ordinary.