You Will Island by Curtis Perdue

Sunday, December 16, 2012

You Will Island

by Curtis Perdue
H_ngm_n Books

This unassuming collection of shorter poems—only three extend beyond a page—works a languorous charm. Curtis Perdue’s most recent chapbook offers up neither labored language nor manhandled imagery, but instead indulges his knack for finding oblique points of entry into a world peopled with objects. For example, he verbs his nouns in such a way as to expose the soft underbellies of things: lifejacketing hearts and whaleboning bodies, lending credence to Bruno Latour’s claim that “things do not exist without being full of people.” You Will Island brings this saturation to the fore.

Largely devoid of narrative elements, Perdue’s poems unfold and amplify each other over the course of the collection. He makes known this predilection for tracing and retracing in “Yes, Yes Rockinghorse,” returning to the same image in consecutive lines and refining a make-believe telephone into a banana. Objects grow, shift, and become unstable in Perdue’s poetry, so that when he writes, “I house tiny / houses of shadows,” houses and housing fold back on each other without devolving into trite wordplay. That is not to say that his lines do not slip into too-clever-by-half moments (such as with a particularly egregious pun on schooling in “Aquarium Poem”—learning from schools of fish) but rather that he attends to the meaningful lapsing of time.

Indeed, the poems in You Will Island seem to sieve and resift moments from both the poetic and the personal pasts. “I forget / a lot of things” might serve as a kind of mission statement. Pieces like “Out of the Blue” have the air of fragments told and retold around each other, dissolving and resurfacing in a (very) gentle archaeology. Perhaps “This is the time I am a rerun” is a better mission statement.

On this score, it is worth considering the atmospheric details that inflect You Will Island, deceptively casual nods to Perdue’s native Florida. He makes use of the Sunshine State’s shopworn symbolic vocabulary (oranges, astronauts, Spanish-language billboards) but also heeds the experiential vagaries of place. This is not quite the same way of engaging one’s locality as, say, Reinaldo Arenas raging about Cuba with open wounds, but rather a subtle skirting around the edges. Florida becomes at once hard to place—a sum of fleeting images—and a lens. Perdue does an admirable job of making his poems hum with the ether of blue herons and sawgrass, crafting a collection that is colorfully tinged.

These poems occasionally stumble over their own wit. “Poem with the Word Poem in the Title, Twice,” for example, is an unnecessary entry, especially when Perdue masterfully pulls off the tongue-in-cheek elsewhere in the chapbook. Witness the opening to “The Book of Islands”: “Hey, I have a body too. / Except on Sundays” leads into a playful string of tropical mirages. When unforced, the ludic interplay of lines underscores You Will Island’s appeal.

After several reads, the chapbook still impresses its languor on the reader. These poems read like seeds, but as Perdue tells us in “A Silence,” seeds can be fists, which is to say their tightly corralled forms unfold and clasp each other, sparking unlooked-for intimacies.