With rare integrity of shape and vision, Richard L. Rose offers a journey through the grief and mental static of the current time to a sense of an historical opportunity for "widening the circle of compassion," as Einstein once said. With strong verse whose line breaks, electric diction, and magnetic imagery push the reader from line to line and poem to poem, PushBack takes you from humorous situations like "A Tramp Packs Up Along Pennsylvania Avenue," to speculative fiction like "Bittner Gets a Lift," to the poignant social criticism on immigration policy in "We're full." In the culminating title poem, "PushBack," a continuously inventive narrative, the sustained energy of resistance, criticism, and compassion intensifies, going from scenes of battle, where:
None of the stunned in the dumb stumble
of the not yet dead
staggering in fields of battle
from Bohemia to Yemen,
flies on lips and eyes,
believes that, equitably given,
such wealth of horror is a prize.
to a new place, where,
Soon dark as an unintentional
choice, the pond resolved to space,
as I recall it now,
a spacious interval of placid surface
misted with stars. A loon sang out.
Things need not be this way—
such chopping choices, fear, and fret;
a mind that's hard and set.
Things need not be this way.
PushBack is a rich journey well worth taking.
Through it all, at the center of everything, stands the “poet searching for a word.” Those words come, and they’re at times obscure, like coacervate and annular. When they’re clear, though, the message shines through, undiminished by the limitations imposed by the various rhyme schemes. The forceful “And Less Enthusiasm, Please:” declares “Howl if you wish./Even yelp. Publish./Scream at the mike. Brandish words. Strike/down with a slash/comma; tense. Smash/common sense; dullness/everywhere. Guess/what you meant. I won't.”
Rose’s poems about racism and war, thoughts and dreams, are accompanied by a series of amateurish drawings that add a personal touch and put faces to the individuals mentioned in the verse. At once difficult and personal as well as rhythmic and engaging, this collection walks a fine line between meanings only the poet will fully grasp and thoughts that communicate with clarity and power. This challenging collection will appeal to fans of poetry that touches on pressing issues and rewards careful reading.
Takeaway: These poems of resistance will appeal to anyone who enjoys challenging poetry with great rhythm and urgent beauty.
Great for fans of: Ted Hughes, Jay Parini.
Design and typography: A
Marketing copy: A-
Hear Richard L. Rose speak about his newest book, "PushBack," on the podcast, Without Books.