Kevin Saving on
The Poetry of Sam Silva Volume 3 -
Selected Chapbooks 2008-2009
with Cover Art by Rachel Davis (2009)
available via 'Amazon'
Comprising 43 poems from the prolific, North Carolina-based poet, Sam Silva, this collection encompasses work from five previous chapbooks: Along This Indoor Stream, Shoes on Spring Ice, The Woman with the Veil, What the Ego Thinks of Paradise and Word Returning to its Corruption. Silva was a columnist on the Spring Lakes News for a decade, has published well over 350 poems in a variety of journals and ezines (including the Recusant) and has been nominated
for the Pushcart Award on seven separate occasions.
An intriguing stylist who sometimes seems to hybridize elements of e.e.cummings (without the 'typos') and early Eliot, Silva can sing the seasons or, more wistfully, adumbrate the seemingly ineluctable inertia to which modernity appears
to be prone:
I, who am a member of the spiritually dead,
a moral mouse!,
drowsing breezy from a morning nap,
listening to computer music.
(from 'The Wind within a Half-Crushed Straw').
He is capable of raw physicality:
...pissing a pool
from the unrepentant urge to leak
recycled water from the frigidaire
('Briefly Curse the Modern World')
and of crystallizing awkward, elemental truths:
is so huge
('With Virtue's Sins').
Sometimes, however, his profuse - even 'word-salad' - effects can leave the reader floundering in search of a shaping verb to add coherence to the glistening parts (as witnessed by 'A Not So Different Story'):
Still a chill
in spring's ugly menace
...murder and will
in the raw green shoot
...or that naked ache
that lasts beyond winter
whose old men watch
the young gods crucified.
A crazy grace which has lived too long!
That pocked withered face of the luckiest fool
to enter this world with a lonely song
where clowns are cheered in the circus city
and a wilderness voice gives passion to pity
headless and grieving with broken soul.
Oh fathomless word! Oh fire made from coal.
Sometimes (as in 'The Economy of New York') he catches it just right:
Spring is half-assed,
full of remnant frost
and of Winter's frozen berries.
Towards April a sick March creeps.
Eliot's influence appears advantageously in 'Ah, Spirit Things':
Then towards the sea
as the vision grays
on the creaky bend
of its rotten days
watches as winter
presumes to undress
that shivering form
which exhales the soul.
Silva frequently - and attractively - employs intermittent rhyme, or idiosyncratic internal rhyme. He also enjoys eye-catching, oxymoronic titles. He is, in my own view, overly fond of concluding his poems with ellipses (...), which represent the literary equivalent of pop music's modish 'fade-outs' and which represent a retreat from the summation of a fully quenching closure.
Like most writers, Silva is at his best when he has something trenchant to say. Too often, for this reviewer, he resorts to repetitive variations on a theme of navel-gazing. Although he is by-no-means alone in this respect, one can easily come away with the sense of a mind engrossed in picking at the scabs of its own experience:
[...] I read even less these days
...all of my books have failed me
...all that I've written
...all that I've read.
[...] but every inch of me back in Ithaca
in the bannered house I never left.
(from 'The Word Returning to its Corruption').
The 'Rachel poems' (particularly 'The Light Preceding Autumn', 'Rachel Conceives A Painting', 'The Art in my Lover's Eyes' and 'Going North this time for Summer') seem to me to show Silva at his best, directly addressing his lover: entranced but not entrenched, noticing the nuances. And in 'A Dim Light Needs Forgiveness' Silva gradually ratchets-up his sense of moral outrage at his country's (and its Vassal-state's) foreign policy:
She likes my book
...this woman with the veil.
Perhaps our airplanes will enlighten her as well.
They come to liberate with Jesus and the nail!
They come to set the world alight
in fires of liberation burning in the night.
I sense her dimly like her music
...this woman whom our prayers
will send to hell.
The over-riding impression taken from this volume is of a talent overly-comfortable within its own abundance; definitely one which would benefit from the hand of a firm, sympathetic editor. But (as the conclusion of 'Veterans Day' demonstrates), at least the talent is there:
[...] sing[ing] its closure
full of pesticides
till the evening sun goes down...
I have learned to swim through days like this
through an ocean of grief that leaves a kiss
from a sad smile
underneath a frown.
Kevin Saving © 2010