15 July 2014

Review: Errings by Peter Streckfus














Dawn Leas, Contributing Editor

Review of Errings
Peter Streckfus

Fordham University Press, 2014
Perfect Binding, 74 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8232-5776-8



I was reading Errings around the time I had a conversation with my writing group about accessibility and poetry. I usually am one to say that poetry absolutely needs to be readily accessible – that if poets use esoteric references, language, form; if they make the reader “work” too hard for meaning, they are running the risk of readers closing their books never to be picked up again or placing them in the library donation pile. However, I came away from that conversation with some new viewpoints to consider. Maybe a little work, a little more thinking to “get” a poem or a collection is healthy, a good brain exercise that more people should try more often.

Errings offers the best of both the bay side and ocean side of the street. Some of its poems, readers can immediately enter and understand, and others take a bit more archeological digging. Readers will find poems quiet as a bay sunset and as turbulent as Atlantic waves. At times, it feels rooted in terra firma, then it takes a quick turn, diving deeply into ocean waters only to rise from the waves soaring into the otherwordly. It is brimming with life and oxygen; death and silence; the in-between and surreal.

The collection is divided into three sections in which the reader will find a variety of form and style: lyrical lines and prosy ones; poems that span pages and one that is condensed into four lines; and found words and phrases not only from an unpublished manuscript written by the poet's father, but also from a commentary written by three people that spans 130 years.

The first part of the book includes the two poems that I kept circling back to as I was reading and as I was putting this review together—“Videos of Fish” and “Erring.”

“Videos of Fish” is broken into four sections: Body of Water, Body of Moving Light , Body of Dreams, and Body of Fish. There is a sense of distance and detachment in this sequence, but that is exactly what draws me in, that makes me contemplate Streckfus's content and imagery; what he is trying to say about life, death, relationships and our ties to history? What of present tense of the humanness?

From Body of Water:
            ...As you lay dying,
            I gave you this – drops for your tongue,
            subtle rider of words, mute body of words:


            here, a plastic straw to carry water to your lips.

And from Body of Fish:
            Come to the surface of the screen with your light
            and oxygen holes and press them for moments
            against the page – as if seeking to pass through it.

“Erring” spans 24 pages and includes typed pages with handwritten notes and sections blocked out from Streckus's fathers unpublished manuscript, Two Golden Earrings, words and phrases adapted from the manuscript. The result is a poem with both stark and beautiful language that reads like an avant-garde film. As I read it, I wondered what it was like for the poet to meander the words of his father to find the poem, his own perspective within them.

Many of the lines that pulled me under in “Erring” were ones that stood alone on a page:

            On page 17:
            I will dictate your prayers.

            Page 31:
            You shall be my page -

            Page 36:
            You leaned forward and put the questions with living breath
            right into my ear.

And one of my favorite stanzas of the poem on page 22:
            This is how we learn.
            Everything appears as light and images.
            Rainbow bodies and bodies of darkness and water.

Just like with Sara Michas-Martin’s Grey Matter, the more I returned to Errings the more the author’s focus became clearer. I watched Streckfus adjusting his lens, pushing it to the line of blur in some areas and bringing it close into crisp focus in others. This led me to see meaning and images I hadn’t on my first read through, to change my opinions slightly on accessibility, and on how far I am willing to go to understand and experience a poet's intentions in a body of work.

If you find yourself somewhat lost at sea in this collection on first read, do not swim immediately back to shore. Tread water boldly and curiously with all senses alert and wide open. You will eventually find your way in the language and will be glad you took the extra time.

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