DAVID CHECK & JOHN ELSBERG: SOUTH JERSEY SHORE
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|DAVID CHECK & JOHN ELSBERG: SOUTH JERSEY SHORE|
The authors of this readable collection of poems, haiku and tanka tell us it is a collaboration between two poets, David Check and John Elsberg. They say,
We have used a mix of types of poetry to try to capture scenes and moments that evoke the South Jersey Shore as we have known it.Check wrote more of the longer poems, and Elsberg has contributed the Japanese forms and several short poems. Art is by Wayne Hogan (cover) and Harland Ristau.
A sense of place naturally pervades Check and Elsberg's collection, SOUTH JERSEY SHORE. It's a presence felt from the opening poem by Check, DINER MUSIC, through to the collection's last long poem, from HURRICANE WATCH. Between these parameters, the title SOUTH JERSEY SHORE serves as a metaphor for the range of — predominantly maritime — experiences and events the poems appraise.
The scattering of references to boats, sea and sand throughout Check's poems come as no surprise. Here we find references to food, seafood (DINER MUSIC, THE MUSSELS WERE THE BEST); a boat trip (THE BOAT TOUR); visitors to the house by the shore (SUMMER GUESTS); the boardwalk (ON THE "BOARDS") and beach poems. DINER MUSIC opens the collection with a jaunty air, where a breakfast of ketchup + eggs starts the day, and Elvis is playing on the juke box:
Elvis over easy A breakfast juke thrusts a morning prayer of former America Through the shadows of a diner's memory-dripped ambianceTHE TOUR BOAT draws on Check's experience during an excursion at sea. The depiction of life on the water explores his passion for boats and the ocean:
All aboard! A taste of the sea for you all! A hint of the sailor's lore and the seaman's heart!Tone hardly varies throughout Check's poems. His sea and beach poems are persuasive and SUMMER GUESTS reveals the way family and friends drop in unexpectedly in summer, but are not keen on calling in during the winter months:
"Come see me some lonely winter." "MY God! Are you KIDDING?" WINTERtime? At the SHORE?" "sure ... that's what friends are for."But other poems hint at the freedom Check delights in. ON THE "BOARDS" voices affinity with the spirit of place:
Yes! Here is the ritual of summer carnival! the season's mini-Mardi-Gras Rolling its electric, liquid release through its mass of celebrants!JUST ANOTHER BEACH POEM plumbs similar territory. Certainly Check's sense of humour is given full sway,
Just another beach poem lost in the quagmire of inertia's tumbling toil.Elsewhere, poems are possessed of a thoroughly contemporary voice as in SUNSET LAKE:
it is the true soul of that fallen brightness echoing now with the sounds of the last birds flying back to distant treesBut exposure and vulnerability is evident too, as in SOME WILDWOOD SAND:
We travel to our shores of dreams and touch some sand on the resting beach which lullabied our mad pursuit for a little whileCheck's final poem from HURRICANE WATCH assumes an exquisite poignancy and tenderness as he writes about being
Lost in the foreboding of unreliable predictions —whilst on hurricane watch. But in part 3 of the poem, he finds that
Gloria fizzed out, took a last-minute turn and gave us a "break" — 'til "next time . . ."Contrast these poems with Elsberg's incisive poems. He presents us with two long poems, AVALON BOULEVARD and THE BEACH, and four shorter ones. AVALON BOULEVARD relates the story of Elsberg's father, a sailor. The narrative moves seamlessly between past and present, where the poetic account of his father's life and the boy's school mind are in stark opposition:
Just gone seventy, and in a white healthy stride, he writes me a short note with my mother’s busy letter: the household keeper, as strong as ever in his uncomfortable lines.There's no doubting the emphasis of Elsberg's writing. But it's also a poetry of balance; he doesn't lose sight of the humanity he shares with his family, nor his relationship with the nature he loves passionately. In THE BEACH he writes with passion, balance and strength of his involvement with sand, sun, birds, children and the wind:
The squabbling of the gulls adds another side: but the standard of spleen is set so impossibly high that the challenge is seldom accepted — instead the children run with all the exuberance of finding a whole new world purely by chance.COLLAGE (1) is a page of one- and three-line haiku about the beach and the ocean:
driftwood cradled against the dunes color of boneand
sunset over the back bay a tree turns orangeThis is an elegant way to present haiku and tanka, as a kind of collage, each poem written on a similar theme, segueing seamlessly with each other.
Elsberg also writes a contemporary looking tanka of five lines in fewer than 31 syllables, each presenting a recollection of an impression made memorable within a brief span of time. But his interest is more in the mind’s response than in creating images of the external cues or prompts.
the sleek lines of the schooner America a floating bar squat trawlers come and go further down the dockCOLLAGE (2) contains both haiku and a tanka. Again the subject is the beach and the experience of the poet among familiar haunts.
the concrete ship from World War I breaks up so slowly the clearest pebbles are called diamondsThe haiku are precise and succinct and give the reader something to think about, as in COLLAGE (3):
rising tide they finish the sand castle just in timeCOLLAGE (4) consists of a page of haiku that begins quietly,
moon reflecting on the quiet water how distant the other lightsand ends with the return to shore and home,
everything that we leave behind is in the wake the gulls keep paceCLOSE and THE ZEN OF FISHING are mini poems that encompass the way people amuse themselves at the beach. I quote the entirety of the short poem CLOSE:
blanket just above the wet sand her finger on a passing cloud fingers of the seaTwo longer poems are SHORE TIME and WETLANDS. SHORE TIME is a story about the poet's father's van rusting in summer heat and finally bought by a
young couple game to restore itWETLANDS is another poem about Elsberg's father. Part 1 tells us
my father is slipping awaypart 2 indicates that the poet now owns his father's house which
still carries the hope of spawning and that special smell of wetlands mudIn part 3 we learn that the father is still alive among the reeds, the salty tide, the birds and fish, although
he is not with meThe collection reads well in its parts, as well as the whole, because the poems have complementary properties that are derived from and consistently expressed in the images, location and emotive ideas associated with the sea, the coastal landscape and the characters. SOUTH JERSEY SHORE is rich in regional character, subtle nuances, and language. Affording good company with the poems, the tanka and haiku are crisp and refreshing. As the book is organised, the result is a sustained, reflective montage on the coastline with which these two poets are so familiar. These simple, yet meaningful poems show a deep love for the landscape and for the sand, sea and sun. This is a slim collection of work, and it is to be hoped that both poets will publish larger collections of their work in the future.
|reviewer: Patricia Prime.|