Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Book of Answers (Herb Kauderer): Reprinted review--this book is up for the Elgin this year


Kauderer, Herb, 2014, The Book of Answers: a book of answer poems, written image, Lancaster, New York,, ISBN 0-9715712-4-4; ISBN 978-0-9715712-4-2. Limited edition of 100 copies, saddle stitched with a card stock cover, 44 p. Author email: $8.

Herb Kauderer started submitting short poems to my magazine, Dreams and Nightmares a long time ago, I think back in the mid-1980s. Most of the poems I regarded as mainstream, not speculative, but I published some over the years. Then we lost track of each other and quite recently he sent me a copy of his new book, The Book of Answers. Answer poems are responses to other poems or bodies of poetic work and it is a well-established kind of poem. Many of these poems are responses to mainstream poems, but Herb is the kind of guy who can stitch back and forth across that seam between speculative poetry and the more widely respected kind with an easy grace. So, in between responses to poems by William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, and Edna St. Vincent Millet, are responses to John Grey, David Livingstone Clink, Carolyn Clink, Mary Turzillo, Geoff Landis, me, and more.

As I understand them, answer poems are supposed to use tools employed by other poets to respond to the content of one or more of their poems. Or some approximation thereof.

"persistence" (haiku for John Grey)

thirsty bones bleached pale
protrude from the desert floor
still seeking water

This poem does not actually bring to mind the style of the kind of poems by John Grey with which I am most familiar. On the other hand, the content does seem to echo John Grey's proclivities rather strongly. And I do like the poem.

After "Signs You're in Trouble" (for Mary Turzillo) is a list poem and includes these lines:

6) The DVR has somehow become filled with home movies of your childhood.

7) You do not appear in any of the home movies.

8) Your child plays on an imaginary computer & prefers it to you.

This poem works for me as an answer to Mary Turzillo's poetry. I have a weakness for lists poems, and I think this is a very entertaining one. I especially like the imaginary computer. I made quite a few of those when I was young, using paper and pencil. This poem fulfills all the requirements of answer poetry, probably the most important of which is that the poem stand on its own.

In the opposite of entropy (for Carolyn Clink), Kauderer again brings it all together:

& the persistence of vision
impose patterns
on chaos

This looks like a Clink poem, at least to me. But it highlights the main point of answer poems: they have a lot more impact if the reader is familiar with the source. In general, I am not. So the secondary goal of anyone writing an answer poem is that it be a good poem on its own. You should be able to enjoy it even if you don't know anything about the writing of the person whose work is being answered. Being unfamiliar with many of the source poems, I am well-suited to evaluate that aspect of this chapbook. For me, most of these poems work well as poems, and not just as answers. The answers to speculative poems are themselves speculative, so this collection also works as a speculative poetry collection. Roughly half of the poems are speculative.

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