“Demonstrating “impressive range in form, style, and tone,” and containing poems said to sound like William Stafford on jumping beans, Certain Streets at an Uncertain Hour has been described as “a smart, serious, hilarious first book – a no-kill shelter for memorable speech.” Beautifully illustrated by Lawrence artist Charlotte Pemberton, the collection takes as its starting point the governor’s 2011 dismantling of the Kansas Arts Commission, and features poetry rescued from overheard conversations, discarded letters, library-desk graffiti and beyond.” – Jeff Tigchelaar’s website.
I’m 90% sure this is the guy who came to Ohio University Writer’s Harvest one year while I was in college and looked up at the ceiling of the fancy building before his reading and said “Wow. That’s some dome.”
I don’t read a lot of poetry, in part because I often feel like I don’t get it or it just takes more reads / time spent thinking about it to feel confident that I get it ‘enough’. Like I have some kinda paranoia that I’m missing at least one interpretation of the poem and that I am somehow gonna be graded on that. Probably just leftover stress response from college, and I just haven’t read enough poetry for leisure to break that association. Anyway.
Certain Streets at an Uncertain Hour is pretty unpretentious as far as poetry goes in my opinion, which made it feel less intimidating to read. A lot of the poems are derived from overheard conversations or found writing like postcards or letters. I hadn’t seen much found/overheard poetry before this, and reading several poems like that in one collection got me thinking about what it means to write poetry. I want to know what the original found/overheard source material was like. Did he just transcribe exactly and add line breaks? Did he improvise some extra bits or manipulate the wording of the found material? If so, did he streamline or pad out? Which part of this process is the heart of composing poetry? If you find something anonymously on the ground, find meaning in it, and reproduce it elsewhere so that others might find meaning, does it become yours? Is the Poetry part the meaning-finding or the meaning-sharing? I don’t have answers in mind to any of these questions. I’m thinking about how found poetry is similar to and different from, say, finding a sketch on the ground, taking it home, and redrawing it with more details or your own style or even just exactly as you found it. The only part that I feel certain is important is being transparent about the found art being found rather than imagined from nothing.
Many of the traditional (e.g. not-found) poems in the collection share common subjects and themes with the found poetry–renderings of day-to-day moments, sometimes humorous, sometimes somber, sometimes both. If you read my review about The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, you’ll see that I’m pretty fond of writing that focuses on the everyday. I don’t know how else to close this review so I’ll leave you with a couple of snippets from the book.
One of my favorite poems in the collection:
Today We Saw a Man
take a coffee cup from a trash can
and drink what had been left
and this was right in front of
the Starbucks, right
in Lawrence, Kansas, where
somehow there’s a man who doesn’t have
enough to eat
and this was right in front of
my kids, who somehow had
And a great opener from another poem:
“I’m in a manmade capsule hurling through the sky
so if I die I probably deserve it.”