Cantilevered Songs

Thistledown Press

Reviewed by Richard Stevenson

John Lent composes in long loping lines, often in mellifluous sentences, rather than breaking his lines on phrase, or against the grain of his syntax, though he’ll also narrow down the line to a pneumatic drill on occasion too, or let it eddy and pool at the edges of the things he sees like phagocytic print shadows swallowing up suburban lawns in late afternoon. He’s attentive and patient and canny. And Thistledown has done him justice with a wider format and smart design to accommodate the wide net of his narrative reach.

Reach he does too, whether it be accretive, through stream of consciousness narrative, or via more deliberate, meditative narrative, running a riff (image, anecdote, memory, or incident) to ground or through motif changes. He doesn’t reach for a big mallet to hit the bell of deep image, though the rich green carpet of the grass is studded with beautiful things he happens to observe adeptly. Rather, he starts from whatever is at hand — the raw materials of his everyday experience: driving to and from his job as a college professor; noticing the difference to the biome and events if he happens to set out twenty minutes earlier or twenty minutes later than he would travelling the same route any other day; the task of fixing a dilapidated bird house, and what it teaches him about keeping the domestic world in order; kicking around the house or listening to Lightfoot on the highway; improvising in chordal or modal fashion on a riff; the surprise of happiness attached to little deeds and habits; the importance of examining, reflecting on, capturing the moments; how we unwind skeins of narrative as we contextualize our lives around goals, disappointments, happenstance; create, narratize, rather than find our lives. How patient observation can be rewarded; how the tendency to anthropomorphize our will on the wild can undermine it.

It’s traditional enough meditative narrative poetry perhaps, but wholly conscious of new narrative — not just plotted or epiphanic. I especially like the ordinary language vocabulary, the mastery and fluidity of the syntax; the voice is capacious, kind, observant, but not self-congratulatory. I feel I can trust this poet. If he doesn’t take the corners at a clip, indeed, when he slows down, I find myself smiling in recognition of the scenery. I’m grateful, settling into the language like one of those old bench seats in a ’57 Buick Special.

The skills John Lent has learned writing stories, songs, and novels are well-honed here and it’s nice to see his poetry again.

This review is excerpted from a longer piece published in CV2.