Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Poetry Confessions

Author: John G. Briscoe
Publisher: InfinityPublishing.com
ISBN: 0-7414-2926-8

In Poetry Confessions, John Briscoe introduces his new art form, Creative Art Poetry Story (CAPS), which “combines visual art and poetry to tell a story in a unique new way” (p.1). Each poem is accompanied by complementary artwork. And, occasionally, poems are graphically arranged so that they are both textual and visual works. “Gentleman’s Farewell Tease,” (p. 69) is an obvious example of one such graphic poem. In this collection, the poems combine to tell a fictional story of a doomed love affair.

The first thing a reader will notice is that Briscoe’s poems do not adhere to traditional forms. This is not necessarily bad. Many skilled poets have demonstrated that free verse is a flexible tool that is well suited for contemporary poetic expression. In Briscoe’s case, his irregular meters and stanzas, and his unique rhyme schemes, are sometimes clever and refreshing. Note, for example, this couplet:

Starting over takes a lot of compromising.
We both are good at prioritizing (p. 28).

The cadence created by this couplet’s irregular meter is distinctive and charming. And the unusual rhyming of the words “compromising” and “prioritizing” is creative. Passages such as this reveal that Briscoe is quite comfortable working with words and is able to write in a uniquely expressive manner.

Unfortunately, refreshing moments like these are sometimes offset by lapses into truly hackneyed passages, such as this one:

. . . falling in, and out, of love,
and asking forgiveness from the heavenly Father above (p.4).

The “love-above” rhyme is nauseatingly overused in religious poetry and song lyrics. That rhyme, plus the conjunction of the phrases “falling in, and out, of love” and “heavenly Father above,” struck me as an instance in which the author resorted to using well-known, well-worn phrases instead of creating unique ways to express his ideas.

Briscoe’s greatest strength as a writer is that he explores and expresses a wide range of emotions. He writes, sometimes with brutal honesty, about euphoria, despair, anger, joy, loss, contrition and everything in between. Such writing takes tremendous courage and self-confidence.

Briscoe’s greatest weakness as a poet is that, apparently, he can’t live with rhyme and he can’t live without it. The English language lends itself readily to rhyme, which is why so many English-language poets employ it. While this amenability to rhyme is one of the English language’s greatest assets, it is also the source of an extraordinary amount of banal verse. Many English-language poets know, in their heads, that poetry doesn’t always have to rhyme. Nevertheless, it’s extremely difficult to escape the notion, in their hearts, that poetry ought to rhyme. At times, Briscoe seems to be stuck in this quandary. The result is that much of his rhyme appears to be accidental or incidental rather than intentional. It is not unusual for him to waiver between rhymed and unrhymed lines within the space of one poem, or even within a stanza. This inconsistency is disconcerting. If, in a particular poem, he intends to reject rhyme, then he should reject it throughout. If, in a particular poem, he intends to employ rhyme, then he should employ it with discipline and consistency throughout. In their current forms, many of the poems in this collection are passionate and expressive, but incoherent as poetry.

I admire Briscoe’s passion and his willingness to explore the complexities, frailties and imperfections of human relationships. He is an able writer and I look forward to seeing him develop his voice and style in the coming years. Poetry Confessions is more compelling as a story, however, than as a collection of poetry. If you are looking for good poetry, you won’t find very much of it in this book. If you enjoy delving into new story forms, however, you may find Poetry Confessions intriguing.

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