There's a dark underside to George Drew's "American Cool" (Tamarack Editions, 2009). The title poem speaks of "two typical kids from the suburbs" who stabbed and slit the throats of some unspecified animals.
One of them, the speaker, is left to mull this one-time act of violence for the rest of his life. Was it buried rage at the world, "bad genes," "genuine evil?" The poem dismisses these explanations. Years of therapy teach him that it was "run of the mill American cool," that "hate had nothing/ to do with it. It was/ little about nothing," random, senseless.
This poem gives this award-winning book its title, and if read first, takes us on a challenging and difficult ride. How does a normal kid from the suburbs survive this capacity for cool slaughter? One answer, the book implies, is that he found his way to literature and the writing of poems. The book's first poem hints at the issue. "On a nearly obliterated backwoods trail/ somewhere in Maine or New Hampshire or Vermont" the speaker finds himself reciting Frost's "Desert Places" and "knowing the first time ever/ exactly what it is the Master meant." What did Frost mean, though? Here is what he wrote:
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars - on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
This, then, is a book that would be about human emptiness, about discovering a core of deep indifference in oneself.
We have to read the Frost to get the full message, though. Frost was a dark poet, not fully convinced of our worthiness. "I don't know where it's likely to go better," he said in one of his more cheerful moods. Drew must be a fine teacher, but I wish more of his poems took me into his experience not Frost's or some other master's.
The book primarily displays the mature, perhaps the word is "healed," poet drawing heavily on such well-known writers as Shakespeare, Milton and Dickinson, and tempering this with references to pop culture icons like Elvis, Mississippi John Hurt and Roy Orbison. I find the cosmopolitan man of many worlds less compelling than the man who recalled a bus ride in his youth when he first heard Orbison's "Only the Lonely."
It was somewhere in Iowa and nothing
but the drone of the Greyhound and as far
to the horizon as my eye could see field
after field of corn - yellow monotony made
weighty by the heat and Orbison so
throaty and delta deep and backing me up.
For one forgivable moment lonely was good.
There's no need to apologize for knowing and then telling the truth. As Keats said, it's beauty's equal.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.