James Bourey reviews Patric Pepper's Everything Pure as Nothing
Everything Pure as Nothing
Finishing Line Press 2017, $14.99
Also Available from Amazon
There’s a theme in this collection of twenty-five poems from Patric Pepper. Some books of poetry claiming a theme often disguise it pretty well, or they throw in a few off-theme poems to add emphasis to the themed pieces. Not this author. Pepper sticks to his purpose like fresh snow on an iced over pond. And that’s the theme of this book – snow.
But this is not a one-note song of a collection. The author has scanned his poems from the 1980s through 2015 and plucked out an assemblage that serves up a fine mixture of lyrical, meditative or narrative pieces which use the cold, white stuff as setting or metaphor, sometimes both at once.
The poems are arranged in reverse chronological order. The earliest poems, at the back of the book, lean on rhyme and a touch of cuteness. They’re not bad but they are not nearly as fully developed as Pepper’s more recent work. In fact, this book is a concise example of poetic growth. While the early poems are fun to read, often humorous with clever language, they don’t dig too deeply into the heart of the poet.
Compare these lines: “The stars came down!”
you greet the snow,
in our southern town,
From “It’s Snowing in the Nation’s Capital” 1980s.
To these: …how it dampens
the day into a nap day
and folds up life like an ironing board,
clankity-clanks it into the closet
in favor of minor daydreaming.
From “Snow in Switzerland” 2013.
While these few lines from the newer poem hold no great “Truth” we can see that the author has learned how to grab the details of close observation and put them into a poem that, as a whole, captures a mood, tells a story and delivers emotion with understatement and subtlety.
The second time I read this collection I started at the last poem and worked to the first – the newest. Each poem deals with some snow event, or in one case, lack of an event. But they each have a different flavor and tone. Some poems – “Our First Snow” “Cabin Fever” and a couple others – are love poems celebrating a shared experience. Others – “It’s Snowing in the Nation’s Capital Again” “The Big Snow” – are wry political statements. And many are lyrical observations of winter and its effects on the poet and his world.
The opening poem in this collection “Favorite Things” deserves some special mention. It is a meditative, lyrical piece describing an early morning snowfall experienced while listening to the John Coltrane jazz rendition of “My Favorite Things” from “The Sound of Music”. The juxtaposition of the music of Coltrane and the words of the poet are quite remarkable, as I discovered by doing as the poet did, in a sense. I read the poem aloud several times while playing the music. It was a warm day in early July when I did this but the combination of words and music was strong enough to make me wistfully long for a really good snow storm.
This is a fine collection of interesting, easily entered and enjoyable poetry. And I’d like to see what Patric Pepper could do with some other types of weather.
Jim Bourey is an old poet who divides his time between the northern Adirondack Mountains and Dover, DE. His chapbook “Silence, Interrupted” was published in 2015 by the Broadkill River Press and won first place for poetry chapbook in the Delaware Press Association writing competition. His work has appeared in Mojave River Review, Stillwater Review, Blue Nib, Paddock Review, Broadkill Review and other journals and anthologies. He is also a regular contributor of book reviews for The Broadkill Review. He has been an adjudicator for Delaware Poetry Out Loud and can often be found reading aloud in dark rooms.