Sunday, November 20, 2011

Book Review #18: The Vicinity by David O’Meara

Excellent poems from a fine Canadian poet.

The urban world of concrete, structural steel and glass is the primary subject of this fine collection of poems on the city acutely observed. In the wrong hands this could have led to a blurred gray vision of the world but O’Meara’s use of language and images is so striking and original that dusk’s “uneven ledges” turn into “long, sun-burned collarbones”. ‘A Civic Gesture’, the first of two sections, ends with a long poem titled ‘Letter to Auden’, in which O’Meara gives the old poet a report on the state of the world since his death. This structured piece of moral outrage also exhibits a wry, infective humor: “And correct me here if there’s some doubt, / But wasn’t the Great Wall constructed / to keep the tourists out?”

Throughout the collection, there are numerous examples of the poet’s exhilarating, fresh imagery: A brick wall is “stoic toil”; a dark window on a train becomes “a specimen slide of dark fields”; and wind is a civil servant “pushing papers along curb lengths”. In arguably his finest poem, ‘The Basilica at Assisi’, the poet imagines himself as a rough laborer in 1233 who wishes he could “swear and still be pious”. As for St. Francis, he could “talk a storm into a rain barrel”, and the deadline for finishing the basilica is “This time next century”. Although the second section of the book, ‘Walking Around’, exhibits an appropriate meandering quality, the poems are less razor-sharp. Altogether, this is an excellent, finely honed collection, filled with precise, wholly original language.