‘How the Crimes Happened’ offers insight into middle age

Posted Sept. 05, 2010, at 6:33 p.m.

HOW THE CRIMES HAPPENED by Dawn Potter, CavanKerry Press Ltd., Fort Lee, N.J., 2010; 96 pages, trade paperback, $16.

“How the Crimes Happened,” Dawn Potter’s second book of poems, covers in some detail the topic of life during middle age. In 33 poems of widely varying lengths and elasticity of syntax, we hear a lot of ups and downs from an everyday life that is simultaneously fraying and tight-knit and that the poems themselves seem to be attempting to cohere.

There are many instances of regret over an aging body and a sort of wistful desire for it to be worthy, as it once was, of being stroked. Young boys appear and disappear in different relations to the speaker — from sons to students to bouncing basketball fans — and the teenagers are a point of orientation for a preoccupation with memory-tweaking pop songs. Overall there is in this book a large desire for things to be more than what, the speaker has to admit, they actually are.

When the poems are not puzzling over the kaleidoscopic emotions of teenagers, they’re often zeroed in on the husband, and the best language of the collection opens a set of four poems titled “Eclogues” after Virgil:

The lovage is the shade

of Lincoln green in Sherwood

stealthy green, its leaves sharp-tongued

and leathery and rude.

This is a verdant opening to declarations of love in the ruins of the everyday. But much of what follows seems to be an effort to keep her chin up while, for example, chasing chickens:

“My love. Marry me, I say. You cast / an eye askance and shrug, I did.”

These passages are uncharacteristically direct; there is elsewhere a lot of fashionable hypotaxis, not exactly what you would say if you were actually saying it. Most of the poems despite their efforts do not succeed in alleviating the quotidian, it appears. Well, that’s life, we seem to be invited to observe.

Dawn Potter lives in Harmony and is associate director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching in New Hampshire, part of New England’s literary cottage industry. Her other books are “Boy Land and Other Poems” and “Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton.”

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