Tuesday, February 13, 2007



Calls From the Outside World by Robert Hershon
(Hanging Loose Press, Brooklyn, 2006)

In his 12th book of poetry, Robert Hershon allowed this child of the Plains to visit places I would never see otherwise. He conducted my imaginary tour with priceless humor, delicate nostalgia, plainspoken regret, and a soupcon of racy reminiscences. These are rich, full-bodied poems from a man who's met life head on and survived to tell about it.

This excerpt from "My Passage Through Grub Street" is quintessential Hershon at his tongue-in-cheek best, with a generous measure of reality thrown in for balance:

….Actually, I took a job writing
speeches. Say, I don't know how you do it,
the speechgiver would say, it sounds just like me.
But it didn't, it sounded just like me, except for the
god bless thises and the god bless thats.
So I figured I'd better keep moving before
I did sound just like him and I gave up
writing for money and started writing poems
for bits of red ribbon and chunks of blue glass,
fine ribbon, shiny glass.

Hershon's sentiment is often portrayed as accidental, an emotion shared in passing. The resulting words have greater power than if he wept openly over every line. I quote "Sentimental Moment, or Why Did the Baguette Cross the Road" in its entirety:

Don't fill up on bread
I say absent-mindedly
The servings here are huge.

My son, whose hair may be
receding a bit, says
Did you really just
say that to me?

What he doesn't know
is that when we're walking
together, when we get
to the curb
I sometimes start to reach
for his hand.

"A Woman Strangles" is Hershon's response to the sort of news we read every day. The conclusions he draws in this poem may seem overtly cynical, but lean towards a starkly realistic view:

A woman strangles her fourteen-year-old daughter
to drive out the demons which possess the child.
Very efficient: demons are gone,
a fine demonstration of the role of religion
in everyday life In fact, she had the assistance of her
sixteen-year-old daughter (who held her sister
down) so this can be considered an instance of
organized religion. If they had just dragged
the girl's body across, say, the Canadian border
they might have established international standing
and qualified themselves as "one of the world's
great religions," thus entitling them to destroy
as many school buses, mud villages, supermarkets,
workers' pubs, tent cities and prime ministers
as their fervor, good book, and geography required.

In the poem "Lunch with Lizzie and Dinner With Donna," Hershon's daughter Lizzie says she's in a family put together out of scraps. The same might be said about the poems in this book, which have been skillfully, happily, deliciously created out of scraps of everyday life.


Laurel Johnson is a Retired Registered Nurse and the author of four books. She is Senior Reviewer for Midwest Book Review; Review Editor for New Works Review; Staff Reviewer for Shadow Poetry Quill Quarterly Review and occasional submitting reviewer for The Wandering Hermit Review and Irish News and Entertainment. Her poetry and prose can be found online in various literary e-zines. She lives in Nebraska with her husband of forty years.


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