Book Review: 5° and Other Poems by Nicholas Christopher

five degrees and other poems is a poem of thirty-five interlocking parts that combines a seemingly strange set of images and subjects to form a whole.  The poem takes place in a mysterious city in which it is 5°.  The subjects seem totally disconnected- Houdini; John Dee, English mystic and mathematician; Paul Gauguin and Vincent Van Gogh; Nazi occupation; Persephone and the underworld; and Shakespeare’s The Tempest. Each poem could stand on its own, but when read in sequence the images of iron, exploration, nightingales, ice, stars, coins, and angels begin to connect the poems intimately.  There are allegorical and fantastical elements, but I’ll leave that to the individual reader.  Christopher’s writing is very accessible, which is a way of saying that he doesn’t write holier-than-thou-snotty-abstract poems that take a PhD in literature to “understand.”  At the same time, he is an inventive and skilled poet.  5° is an enjoyable read that sparks the imagination.

The book also includes twenty-five lyrical and narrative poems, including one of my favorites, “Terminus.”  These poems range from the reflective coming-of-age poem “The Quiñero Sisters” to a reflection on the Los Angeles riots in 1992 in “May Day, 1992.”   “The Palm Reader” gives the reader a glimpse into the all-too-human life of a – wait for it – palm reader. Her husband, drinking a beer, serves lunch to the kids in the living room on paper plates. Several of these poems also contain mystical elements, which seem to be a favorite of Christopher’s.  “Your Father’s Ghost” contains a taxi driver with one are, one eye, and one ear.  The car only has wheels on one side.  In “Bees,” each of the five stanzas give a short magical quality of bees, ending with Cellini’s statue of Medusa with bees for hair instead of snakes.  The statue emitted a low hum.  These poems are intelligent and well-crafted; every reader can find something valuable that he or she can take away from this collection.

The Quinero Sisters- Nicholas Christopher1The Quinero Sisters- Nicholas Christoper2

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Terminus

I will spend the New Year at home with my family. No exciting parties- the kids are watching Shrek 2 on TV and eating popcorn. I was thinking of writing about Jim Carroll (the poet, diarist, rock singer) last night, but realized it would take multiple posts and an amount of work I’m unwilling to commit at the moment to do the man justice. I had the pleasure of seeing him give a reading at a local college in the mid-’90s. He was excellent. Among his own work, Jim read a poem by Nicholas Christopher, which sent chills and silence through the room. The poem is called “Terminus.” I posted it below. I think besides Jim’s own “Eight Fragments for Kurt Cobain,” this was the best reading that night. The poem is about the things humans do and have done since the beginning of time. I post it now, at the end of the year, in an attempt to make us think about this long history we have of doing horrible things to one another. Let’s try to change individually. Continue reading “Terminus”

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