Sunday, December 5, 2010



Requiem for the Orchard by Oliver de la Paz
(The University of Akron Press, Akron, OH, 2010)

Oliver de la Paz's poems in Requiem for the Orchard are confidently written; that is, the author may not have been feeling confident at the time he created the poems, but the poems come forth with an assurance that's even more impressive given the themes of coming-of-age as a boy and as a new father. That, despite such usually fraught topics, an assurance presents itself is a compliment to the poet's prowess (and maturity). But it wouldn't surprise me either if the effect results from a prior deep meditation (whether conscious or subconscious) by the poet on his small town past--that before the first word of these poems were ever written, there was an internal deep holding of a turbulent past that alchemized into poetic gold.

As regards this small town which the poet at times found stultifying, the poet shares the early desire to leave; from "Self-Portrait as the Burning Plains of Eastern Oregon":
...A book of matches and a boy was never
an accident. Nor was the little recourse I had in those days.

Boredom was an arrow shot straight into the ground. But I'm here now.
My name is not a fire. My name is not a story of fire.
I've got nothing in common with that element, save contempt

for the place of my youth and a hunger for air.

But I am not sure that the existence of these poems manifest a returning to a past as it seems like the poet carried the past with him wherever he went (yes, here I am saying "poet" rather than "persona", because I believe the poems to be autobiographical; but if I'm wrong, chalk it up as yet another achievement for believability, for authenticity) . Too much love exists (even if only in hindsight, yet hindsight is the space from which these poems are written); for instance, from "Ablation as the Creation of Adam", there is the oft-too rare acknowledgement of this one significance of origin:
In the beginning, there was a whole me.

if only because, as the poem continues, there was not yet "an end" to be seen.

Such quality of attention also logically evidences itself in the specificity of details throughout many poems, which serve to further draw in the reader and create empathy. As in, from "Self-Portrait on Good Friday as an Altar Boy":
This was the year of the long winter, and snow still hazarded
the pathways. I was contrite, tired of the flat whiteness of everything.
Junior high was a monument on a hill, light years from where I knelt
a stoop below the priest. I, too, raised my arms, holding the red book
up so he could read, his voice booming over my head.
This was the time of the long word. Sermons lasted forever.
The world was dark with the smell of salt on sidewalks,
and the sky from the doorway showed clouds, heavy and on the move.

Throughout, there is a lyrical musicality that make the poems a joy to read. If a requiem has more than one definition, the definition these poems manifest would be the third option according to Merriam-Webster: "a musical composition in honor of the dead." The dead, of course, live again through poems (I initially thought to write on de la Paz's book to see how it might relate to the author's Filipino roots; I'm experimenting with indigenized Filipino literary criticism. But, like a poem, this review transcended its intention to become something else ... except that in indigenized culture, there is no time-passage, thus obviating death.)

And, then there is even "the keeper" of a poem (and many poetry collections don't contain such a Poem) that is just PERFECT / PURRRRR-FECT. This sprung whole and purrrrr-fectly formed (in pitch, balance, evocativeness et al) from the pen underneath the poet's brow; let's let the poem sing on its own without a critic's brass:
How You Came About in the World
Bewilders Me as a Cherry Tree Flowering

In the beginning there was
the dark of an empty box
and a hum of static
you can sleep to.

Wasps defended
the vespiary above
the picnic table, now
dust. Everything

was humorless and gray.
Empty cups lined
our cupboards.
Garages smelled
dull, like old oil.

I wanted to walk out

but there is nowhere to go.
Not even the straight roads to town
could take me
past the rubble.

Therefore, you were
a river of ribbons and
confetti from a pinata--
as if suddenly when I stood
to look out the window,
sunlight hit the tree and
it blossomed.

The dirt of hard labor in orchards to the ferocity of boys to the fears of parenthood, among other things, create a hardscrabble soil for these poems, these blossoms. But in the poet's hand, these also make a fertile ground made ever more abundant by de la Paz's wisdom and compassion. Arduous birth, yes, but these poems are lovely, beloved creatures.


Eileen Tabios does not let her books be reviewed by Galatea Resurrects, but she is pleased to point you elsewhere to reviews of her books. Her newest book THE THORN ROSARY: Selected Prose Poems & New (1998-2010) is reviewed by Amazon top-notch reviewer Grady Harp over HERE, William Allegrezza over at p-ramblings HERE and by Leny M. Strobel at Moria Poetry HERE. Mr. Harp also reviews her NOTA BENE EISWEIN over HERE. If the former book gets you curious, please note that its publisher Marsh Hawk Press is supporting a fundraiser for Haiti relief by giving a free copy if you order at least $15 worth of booklets through the Hay(na)ku for Haiti fundraiser; as THE THORN ROSARY is priced retail at $19.95, this is one of the best bargains in the poetry world, even as it helps out with a Haiti fundraiser.

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