Sunday, May 17, 2009

John Amen: At The Threshold Of Alchemy

John Amen
At The Threshold Of Alchemy
Presa Press
Poetry calls for readers to reflect upon the words they have before them--it doesn't so much ask readers, but it leads readers to meditate. John Amen's At The Threshold Of Alchemy is the perfect example of guiding readers to think about worlds they haven't thought about before. It's a consistent blend of light and dark, and these flashes of images, these ins and outs of a spectrum of worlds, flicker throughout this collection of poetry.

In "Gnostic," the author presents to the reader an excerpt into "you's" life: "you were converted in the parking lot after the hearing. you stood beside a hotdog stand. you sold rifles for your wealthy uncle. a one-legged prostitute taught you to play a violin…you made peace with salt and frankincense and seaweed. lambs appeared on your patio. you scribbled platitudes on the wall beside the smoking shed. you wanted to dance." It's in this dark prose, readers have the opportunity to be taken out of their own galaxy and into another universe. Perhaps, we have all seen "clocks," "bristles," and "bedsprings," before; however, Amen presents these images in a way we haven't seen them--he gives new angles to everyday objects and experiences as "you wrote songs on your father's guitar. you learned to smile while remembering your mother's voice."

Amen has molded a surreal world and in this textual setting, these environments leave the pages and floats into the reader's brain. In "All Night," the author creates a world where time has been confused with itself or perhaps where time exists in parallel layers where (or when?) "Strom Thurmond drinks chai in the courthouse cafeteria, as Gandhi mingles, offering free batteries to the enlightened," or "Ben Franklin phones Howard Stern, seeking counsel regarding the infamous Chicken Soiree." It seems so simple and believable, and the reader must realize that, wait, this isn't really happening.

In "Salient Matter," the narrator mirrors this idea of being lead to reflect about the worlds presented before the reader, as the narrator states, "There are moments, usually before dawn while silence still cradles the house, when I reflect upon my days as one might a bizarre but masterful abstract, when I know that at least a few of the strokes were rendered by my own steady hand." This is exactly what Amen does--he leads readers to think about the oddities, the beauty, the confusion, and the tragic which are found in this world, or rather, this painting, and in this world, we all have a hand in painting the picture, whether we know it or not.

Amen covers a variety of cultures and places and people--East and West, and the author portrays these images as their own separate entities, while at the same time blending them together in a magical way to create a world of its own. And as a result, the reader has no choice but to think about the lives of those who are hidden in the pocket of a stranger's pants. And the author, through his poetry, has taken these lives out of the stranger's pocket and put it in the palm of our hands.

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