A couple of months ago, the good folks at readwritepoem asked me if I’d like to be a stop on the read write poem virtual book tour. I was initially hesitant to accept. I knew I had a lot going on and adding another thing on top of teaching high school, working on my MFA, submitting my own work out for publication, and family life, would be a stretch. But after giving it MUCH consideration, I’ve accepted and you are here: expecting to read my review of Pamela Johnson Parker’s chapbook, A Walk Through the Memory Palace. As much as my hectic schedule caused me to debate whether or not to accept the invite, so too was the possibility I might offend others (author included) by not giving the chapbook a “favorable” review. But this is a “tour stop,” not a “review stop,” and I’m treating it as such, since I’m pretty sure the other stops on the tour will be more inclined to review the book.
But, if I were to give the chap a simple one sentence informal review, I’d say I don’t care for the contents of the book. As a thirty-something Latino living my whole life in Southern California, I can’t relate to many of the book’s references, specifically to nature. Admittedly, I’m not one for poetry with images, themes, figurative language, etc. alluding to conventional definitions of nature (if that makes sense) to begin with. My nature is the dirty Pacific Ocean, tall buildings, and inner-city students. And while it can be argued that a “good” poem transcends personal experience and cuts to the core of the human spirit, A Walk Through the Memory Palace in that regard does not do that, for me. As I read the poem “Tattoos” I did not want to read Cardamom, ginger,/pomegranate bark. I wanted something more hard-hitting. And it should come as no surprise upon reading “Unreal Gardens Without Toads in Them Or, Last Year’s Journal, This Year’s Yard” I wasn’t vibing with the hydrangea, sunlit maples, sea-green tree frog’s back all written within the first three stanzas of the poem. Of course, how many publishers set out to publish a book catering to minority males. This chapbook simply isn’t written for me. And maybe a poet might suggest they set out to write a book for those who love the art of poetry. Maybe. But we all know who we have in mind when we write (or at least who will most appreciate our work), and to say otherwise is a lie. HOWEVER, what I can relate to in the book is the sheer beauty of the language. The sounds each syllable creates stirs the Long Beach living, frequent burrito eating, poverty children teaching poet in me. Pamela Johnson Parker’s deftly painted words linger on the tongue and ease out of the mouth when, and only when, they are ready. Because others will undoubtedly give you examples later on, I’ll leave it at that. But this is not a review. It is a tour stop. And on this tour stop I’ve chosen to celebrate the delicate compassion of A Walk Through the Memory Palace by sharing a poem written specifically for the stop. If you’ve ever read any of my work, you’ll see this poet could only benefit from being exposed to a book like this. Sometimes I don’t pay as much time as I should to the senses. But I do try to absorb all I read in the efforts to maximize what I am capable of writing at the time. The following is an ekphrastic/A Walk Through the Memory Palace inspired poem. Is it my best? Not nearly. Is it finished? No. But it is the product of inspiration I got out of the chapbook itself, when read and held in my hands. It is my attempt to incorporate the elegance of Pamela Johnson Parker’s writing with my own, specifically unfinished because like Pamela, I’m waiting to be guided by that something.
Her body is honeycomb:
wax tapestry of limbs and skin,
hexagonal patterns of piety
contemplating the cusp of dusk.
Her tears, flares:
prelude to darker days,
remnants of determined embers
that once flew straight over the groves
like homesick arrows.
I am unsure… “What’s the matter?”
“It’s none of your beeswax.”
And she is certain.
She may be broken, critically crestfallen,
as if her severed vertebrate are detoured train tracks
that once connected winter and spring,
pollination and anything bright resembling life.
Bees only sting when provoked. Give their lives
when they feel threatened…