Compressed squares of old junked cars in straight vertical piles fill the cover of Ace, winner of the 2008 Washington Prize, and the last of the four poetry books Richard Carr published this year that I’ve now read. The junkyard feel of the cover actually turned me off initially. I set this book aside to read last. As it turned out, I saved the best for last.
Piercing details and language, hallmarks of Richard’s poetry, flash on the pages, bringing images into laser-like focus. One in particular that has stuck with me: “Mother clung to me with bird-like claws….” This phrase beautifully captures the discomfort of a mother clinging to a child. The image that came to my mind was of a peregrin falcon, not a sparrow. Later in the same poem, the mother is described, “against her relentless chirping,” and suddenly the word harpie comes to mind. This is what I enjoy about Richard’s poems. Reading them is a descent into pleasurable free association. He understands the power of the word to evoke. My imagination loves it.
This collection consists of four sections, “Ace,” “Carol,” “Miss Princess,” and “Little Ace.” Each section focuses on the section title’s character. More than with his other books, this collection is novelistic, with emotional action moving forward through thoughts, memories, scenes, and impressions. The momentum is dramatic. By the end of each section, the reader has a clear picture of that section’s character, intellectually and especially emotionally. These people are far from the hallowed halls of the Ivy League or Wall Street (not a bad thing nowadays?), revealing human survival on an almost primal level. This poetry sometimes is like eavesdropping on a character’s mental self-talk. Or even the murmurings between the heart and the mind.
I didn’t find any of the characters particularly likeable, although Ace’s desire to find his grandchild and forge a connection is poignant in its humanity. Their lives exist far from my own. And yet, I’ve met bartenders who were wise beyond any expectation, as well as jaded and wonderfully entertaining. Richard paints a picture in this collection of the disconnections of the human heart, that immeasurable distance between people that can be shortened in a second by a compassionate smile but never completely eliminated. A foreign country within our own, which only reminds that each person is a foreign country within a unified community. People are people.
Back to the cover: after finishing the collection, the compressed squares of junk metal on the front cover suddenly made sense. Stacks of junked lives that continue to exist, maybe could be saved for something, but are never thrown away. The hard metal of emotional resilience.
I enjoyed Ace and would recommend it. Richard Carr is a neighbor. I look forward to his next published collection….