“Grave Reading” by Richard Carr


For the last few nights, I have had at least one dream each night about searching for or chasing or protecting poetry. Ah, the human mind! Clearly, mine was telling me that I needed to “find” poetry.  But where?

I’m not a regular reader of poetry, so my mind fixating on it could mean something else, of course.  But I’ve had one particular poetry book on my mind since receiving my review copy from the poet in late October.  I’d wanted to read it immediately, but life and a new part-time job interfered.  I grabbed quiet time, silence, here and there in which to read the book.  I finally finished this lovely book yesterday.

Grave Reading book cover

Grave Reading by Richard Carr takes the reader on a very human journey with a man who’d lost his wife to some unnamed illness. You might think the poems are about grieving and loss, and some are.  But they are most definitely about life.  I think it begins with the title.  It’s kind of ambiguous.  Are the poems going to be a journey through a cemetery reading the tombstones?  Or is the reader being urged to take these poems seriously? Or maybe, tongue-in-cheek, it means the opposite by being ambiguous: it’s hard to know for certain just what to do in the face of loss, and also in the face of life.

My regular readers know that I’m a fan of Richard Carr’s poetry.  I also know him as a neighbor, although I see him rarely, and communicate mostly online with him.  Richard knows by now, I hope, that I work hard to give an honest, clear assessment of a book, and I also try to be constructive in whatever criticism I may have.

For Grave Reading, I really have no criticism. What I “found” in this poetry was what I have found before in Richard’s work: attention to detail, startling images, command of language, and depth of insight into the human condition.  What I also found in this book surprised me: it’s positive, even uplifting at times.  This made me nervous. And yet, I sensed an undercurrent of joy, sometimes amusement, and sometimes bemusement in this book.  There is as much light in these poems as there is dark.

And rhyme.  I think this is the first book of Richard’s that I’ve read in which he utilizes rhyme schemes, at times with great sophistication and power. One of the rhyme schemes involves the final word of the first and last lines per stanza.  For example, in the very first poem, “Grave Reading,” the first stanza:

I sit on the low stone of my wife’s grave/                        reading the newspaper out loud/                                       courteous prince — notorious souse/                                 cigars and crosses always brave/

(WordPress’ formatting is not conducive to poetry!)

In this stanza there’s even a rhyme echo at the end of lines 2 and 3.  I had the feeling that Richard was playing with rhyme.  In the next poem, the scheme is rhyme at the end of lines 2 and 4.  Then in the next poem, he switches up to couplets and rhymes the final word in this pattern: couplet 1 and 2 “rain” and “train,” couplet 3 and 4 “legs” and “begs.”  I loved this rhyming! It gives the images created by the words an added sonic punch.  Bravo.

My favorite poems — “Cat,” “tornadic dance,” “highlife,” “obit,” “a cricket song” — take something and turn it inside out on an emotional level.  Then after “a cricket song,” I sensed  more acceptance, resignation, in the narrator, the “I,” which readers of Richard Carr will recognize immediately as his way of pulling the reader into each poem and making the reader the “I.”  It’s not Carr himself.

I loved this collection of poems.  If you are a stranger to Richard Carr’s poetry, I’d recommend this collection as a good place to get to know it…..

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