Monday, March 29, 2010

Review of ''Survival Tips for a Parallel Universe, Part One" by Tim Lockridge

Survival Tips for a Parallel Universe, Part One

By: Tim Lockridge

(From the Latest Issue of Mid-American Review, Vol. XXIX, No. 2)

You wake in a field and you know

the feel of this field, the soft glance

of grass against your cheek

like a wineglass or sweater saying

yes, we’ve met, remember, it was

years ago and there were arms

and arms not yours and in them you

slept and woke to an empty blue

where the moon was and the smell

of apples hung between the blades.

And above you a single crow lights

the morning and you wonder: Is that

my soul? Is that the wind-struck

part of me? But then you see

your hands are not hands, just

gears and pulleys bound in some

intricate mess of metal. And you

lift your new arms and say, “This

is not my century, this is not the sky

I slept to.” But there is nothing near,

save the air humming wild through

the long grass and the field quiet,

just the earth waiting for a whir,

a tiny gasp that means nothing at all.

This poem just came out in the latest issue of Mid-American Review. When I first read it, I was struck by the vision of this parallel universe. It’s an imaginative poem—a break from the talk-show-tell-all type of poems. Lockridge’s poem not only presents us with something outside the conventional, but it’s done so well. We have this “you” in the poem who is constantly straddling two worlds: the one known and the one not known: “You wake in a field and you know / the feel of this field, the soft glance / of a grass….” But ultimately the “you” does not know this field because this is a new world. The “you” attempts to learn the new world through association and metaphor, which is how much of learning takes place.

One aspect to this poem that I also appreciate is how effectively the stanza breaks are used. They hold a syntactical and semantical logic to their breaks. In total, we have eight stanzas. Most of these stanza breaks occur right as the speaker dares to suggest an answer, but what follows is another statement that negates such a dare into certainty. The two clearest examples of this are between stanzas two and three and between stanzas five and six. For example, “There were arms // and arms not yours….” As soon as the “you” can claim there are arms, another thought negates the confidence of such a claim: those “arms are not yours.”

One choice about this poem, however, that does give me pause is how poet-pretty the language is. I mean, we have fields where a “single crow lights the morning” and all of this is coupled with air that smells of apples and is an “empty blue.” Don’t get me wrong: I love this type of language. But I have grown suspicious of this type of language because I see it used so often. It is bordering on the over-used which will soon become the next sentimental (if it hasn’t already). Give me some grit, some urine, something other than poets describing nature in the prettiest of terms. In other words, give me something I haven’t seen before in a poem. For the most part, this poem does do that with its other choices of subject, strong rhythms, and tight structure. I look forward to reading more from Lockridge.


  1. Be careful what you wish for! I imagine a slush pile full of urine-soaked poems. :)

    But seriously, thanks for this close reading. I wasn't familiar with Lockridge, but I'll be on the lookout for more.

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