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The Floating Bridge by David Shumate

The Floating Bridge by David Shumate
(2008, University of Pittsburgh Press / $14.00, Paper
ISBN: 978-0-8229-5989-2
Reviewed by Caron Andregg

In The Floating Bridge, David Shumate vanquishes once and for all the notion that the prose poem is somehow inherently ‘not a real poem.’ This collection exhibits a sustained level of innate lyricism and imagism rarely seen even in conventional lyric free verse. They are densely concentrated distillations of minute moments in time, space, and psychology, volatile, possibly even explosive. Unfailingly, the little prose jewels in The Floating Bridge exhibit the most fundamental property of fine poetry: each whole is many times greater than the sum of its parts.

Each poem is a journey through Shumate’s magical—but decidedly concrete—dreamscape. It is rarely a solitary journey. The magic lies not simply in his re-imagining the world on the other side of the mirror, but in others’ willingness to cohabit his transverse universe. With relish, a lover embraces mannequinism (“Mannequins”). A magician swaps biospheres with his live prop to sample life from inside the hat: “It’s a comfortable life. Aristocratic by some standards,” disturbed only occasionally when he (the rabbit) “reaches in, grabs me by the scruff of the neck, and yanks me out.” The lapin audience goes wild (“Pulling a Rabbit out of a Hat”). In “Fresh Fish,” the narrator buys a—you can guess—for dinner, but he admits, “…these days I become easily confused. And so I take the wrong bus and end up at the office instead of my kitchen.” Elsewhere, that might have been the end of it, but in Shumate’s vision, every fish has its day. While the mackerel sizzles on“the red-hot center of my desk,” his co-workers and even his boss arrive to participate in the minor culinary miracle.

The Floating Bridge is at its heart a collection of minute landscapes: the next village,the Jewish ghetto, the bible belt, the Kissing Institute, a Chinese restaurant, Babylon, Nirvana, purgatory, the private homes of both Death and Dali, and the manifold manifestations of Paris (both without and within). In their clarity and luster, precision and fragmentation, these vignettes recall the soul-ringing imagery of Basho, another chronicler of journeys. And like the haiku of that narrow road, Shumate’s poems demand an engaged and participatory reader. As much as happens in each compact line, much more happens between them. In order to ‘get’ these poems, one must be ready to enter actively into them, to enable their emergence, to become like one of Shumate’s lost gods: “Assembling the lightning. Manufacturing the wind. Hoisting the moon into the sky. Sending the rains down on time.”

Shumate’s sentences are a series of stepping stones stretching across a river, each one is dry and safe itself, but islanded by swirling vortices of possibility. And the breach between each stone is far too wide to span with an easy step. The crossing will demand one—or perhaps several—leaps of… something. Faith. Imagination. Maybe even hope. Enjoy the journey. Don’t forget to stretch before you begin.

Caron Andregg is Editor-in-Chief of Cider Press Review


Little Boy Blue by Gray Jacobik

Little Boy Blue by Gray Jacobik.

(CavanKerry Press, 2010 / $16, paper
ISBN: 978-1-933889-11-8)

Reviewed by Ruth Foley

It is, at first, incredibly difficult to give Gray Jacobik’s Little Boy Blue the time it deserves. One long poem separated into a series of “movements,” this “memoir in verse” about a mother’s relationship with her bipolar son shatters any lingering definitions of confessional poetry or memoir, going beyond both to create a book that is stronger than either genre alone usually produces. Because of this, and because of the narrative drive of the memoir, the desire to find out what happens can override the urge to sit with a movement for a moment, to re-read, to wonder. If you are impatient as I am, you’ll give in to the impulse and fly through the book in a single sitting. This is not necessarily a mistake—once you reach the twenty-third and final movement, you will likely feel compelled to begin again, and the second time through, you’ll be able to do the poem justice.

This is an exceedingly brave book, not because of the themes it investigates—psychological illness, fractured relationships, unprepared/unwilling parents, abandonment, and the tremendous amount of damage we are able to inflict upon each other to name a few—but because of Jacobik’s determination to avoid easy answers. There are no conscience-soothing reunions in this poem, no false-ringing homecomings, no contrived sense that all will be well. Instead, she navigates the treacherous waters of the messy, complicated, sometimes ugly details of her life, and she does so in the same way human beings attempt to make sense of things, moving from association to association and theme to theme instead of in a steady chronological line. In movement eleven, she chronicles the failed reunion of her son with his long-absent birth father, a failure based on nothing more dramatic than a lack of any connection beyond the genetic. In movement fourteen, she tells the story of finding a home for unwed mothers in which to give birth. In movement five, she lists the seventeen ways her son’s girlfriend claims Jacobik has abandoned him, opening the poem with the specific accusations, but ending with the acknowledgment that seventeen is hardly a beginning. And, she admits, “That’s putting it simply & it wasn’t simple.” The poet’s job is to tug at the threads at the edges of the cloth, untangling the weave until it becomes something we can understand. Jacobik gets away with admitting this particular shortcoming in description because she is at a point where there are, for the moment, no more explanations (although she then creates eighteen more movements of explanations).

It is possible, I suppose, to construct a chronological order for these poems, to go searching for the direct narrative line, but I wouldn’t recommend it. When we get to the final movement of the poem, it feels inevitable. It is perhaps the movement most of Jacobik’s readers would recognize—the artist’s brush stroke forming each line, each nuance carefully layered—but it is also the inevitable conclusion to the poem. In it, we can sense the threads being woven back together into something a little like resignation, a little like forgiveness, a little like acceptance. The result isn’t clean or smooth, and that is where it—and the entire book—gets its credibility. She lists the complexities of compassion “for the self by the self…/…for the girl who was who is not now a child / for the girl who was a mother [who is always a mother].” There is no redemption here; there is simply compassion and acceptance. We could do much worse.


2010 CPR Book Award Winner

Liz Robbins of St. Augustine, Florida won the 2010 Cider Press Review Book Award for Play Button, selected by judge Patricia Smith. Runners-up included My Dear, Dear Stagger Grass by Susan Laughter Meyers, and
Permanent Collection by Stefanie Wortman.

Ms. Robbins receives an award of $1,500, and her book will be published by Cider Press in 2012.

The annual award is given for a poetry collection. The next deadline is November 30.