Today, I am going to do something I rarely do, and review two books at once. They are by the same poet, Alex Guenther, a force to be reckoned with in the poetic world and widely known and celebrated on Twitter and other social networking sites for his poetic acumen. Being by the same author is not normally or naturally a reason to put them both in the same review, however, except that by that means I can best compare and contrast them for the reader, and hope to convince the astute consumer of good poetry that though they have certain distinct similarities, they are different enough for anyone to want to own both of them. They are available from various subsites, and as you can see from the image above, one need only go to bitly.com/sonnets2021 to locate these sites. But first to the conviction that these books are worth investing in for the small cost and the large satisfaction to be gained from reading them through.
The two books are respectively “the heave” and “the deodar seeds,” and they were simultaneously released. According to the author, they were begun during the original lockdowns of the first Covid period, which seems to have been a period of intense reflection and soul-searching by the author. The lack of capitalization in the words, according to Alex, a witty and intensely erudite soul, was due to the fact that they were composed on a phone, which called for easy manipulation; later, though still not due to any e.e.cummings-like assumptions of manifesto, this form of writing became preferred for its own sake, possibly a result of the poet’s self-aware but unassuming modesty. “the heave” is a book written more in reference to modern-day life in cities, particularly Eastern cities, as the author and his wife have resided for many years now in the East, and are now resident in Bangkok, Thailand, where Alex teaches and writes. “the deodar seeds,” in contrast, is a book about exploration, conquest and empires, and has a quite broad scope, treating not only of Eastern conquerors, explorers, and literary figures/saints, but also of a few Western or European ones.
Both books are Petrarchan sonnets, being fairly standard in rhyme scheme and meter, except for the odd sound effect or forced rhyme and an occasional extra syllable. Their style is similar, yet in both cases, the rhymes are often quite unique and highly imaginative, with a standard, expected rhyme being quite rare. As well, and this is a major and particularly attractive quality, the enjambment–or carrying over of meaning from the end of a line and resolving the thought with a portion of the next line instead of using end-stopped lines–the enjambment! It produces something of the juggling and oftentimes jarring rhythms of contemporary daily life, and prevents the poems from having a quality rhymed poetry is often criticized for, that of sounding jog-trot and bouncy, too unintentionally comic. Though Guenther has a succinct and piercing wit in the literary sense of the word “wit,” he is never foolishly comical or silly. In fact, though there is no pomposity about the two books at all, it is impossible to read them without reference to the intellectual qualities of the bright and far-reaching examinations of the poet’s chosen topics. In both books, there are many, many words and concepts introduced which would at first be quite foreign to an uninformed or not widely traveled Western person, but there is no reason at all to fear the encounter with these perhaps previously unencountered concepts or facts: Alex is always a good poetic host, and uses such words and concepts in a self-explanatory way, without being condescending.
Now, to the differences: though the two books, “the heave” and “the deodar seeds” are very alike in sonnet paradigms and generally in style, yet the pace of “the heave” is quicker, possibly to convey the haste and scramble of modern life, whereas the tempo of “the deodar seeds” is slower, more considering of all the explorations, discoveries, pilgrimages, and empires discussed. “the deodar seeds” deals with various colonial dreams, and the explorers, artists, holy figures, conquerors, and victims of these imperialisms. “the heave,” on the other hand, deals with the modern streets, shades of experience, and mental and emotional states of contemporary empires, the fragmented, dissonant, sometimes nightmarish echoes of contemporary personhood. There in fact is more of a personal, intense quality of reflection in “the heave,” for a total of 54 sonnets, whereas the 108 sonnets of “the deodar seeds” are personal mainly in the way Alex offers some of them as imaginative explorations of interior states of mind of various world-famous figures, a sort of dramatic monologue in sonnet form.
As a final means of making my points, I would like to offer two sonnets through “fair use” form of quotation, one of my favorites from each book. First, from “the deodar seeds”:
alaric on the walls let oil-black plumes of mingling smoke arise; the visigoths are taking rome. we've won mere plunder; little justice has been done. The vaunted roman dream, we've learned, applies to citizens deemed worthy in their eyes-- not streams of stateless refugees who've run to seek asylum from encroaching huns. they turn us back, and teach us we're despised. they mock our leather trousers and our shoes; we lead their armies; still they keep us down, and gothic blood has often stained these streets; we sought security, and were refused. we tried our best to serve the roman crown; perhaps they will respect us in defeat. The genius of the above is that without distorting the historical element, Alex Guenther has driven home the universal and topical elements of Alaric's discourse. Now, from "the heave," one of the resolving and latter sonnets: to a lotus o beautiful, for doubly floating; no-- say triply; rising from frog-spawn and mire, then hovering as pale empetalled fire on slender stem, amid the ukiyo or shifting world of transitory show in which we swim suspended, where desire breeds pain--where we, until our cells expire writhe blindly as the tadpoles down below. impossible, since nothing is beyond or separate from matter's pulsing swarms; impossible, since all is baited bluff, this apparition from a fetid pond; your gently glowing, pale empetalled form is floating briefly, beautiful enough.
This second sonnet of my quotation is consonant with the Buddhist view of life, which Alex is conversant with and which he avers is his preferred outlook. Nevertheless, he is not morose or gloomy, but instead maintains a humorous and gentle persona. He appears on Twitter on Thursdays at @PoetsCornerALW, curated by another poet whom I have recently reviewed–Arthur L. Wood–and also contributes tweets of the occasional haiku, which can be found on his profile timeline, or on your own timeline feed. Also, he is available for converse on two other sites: http://www.facebook.com/alex.guenther.104, and http://www.instagram.com/guentheralex. And, if after you have read the books, you would like to contribute further to a fine poet who clearly knows poetry, history, and human nature, you can do so at http://www.paypal.com/paypalme/guentheralex.
Shadowoperator (Victoria Leigh Bennett)