03
Feb
13

Damon McLaughlin’s Exchanging Lives (2008)

Over the next few weeks or months, I will post all my reviews (“Tom’s Celebrations”) that appeared in Redactions: Poetry, Poetics, & Prose (formerly Redactions: Poetry & Poetics) up to and including issue 12. After that, my reviews appeared here (The Line Break) before appearing in the journal. This review first appeared in issue 11, which was published circa January 2009.

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Damon McLaughlin's – Exchanging LivesSo for some reason I decided to read Damon McLaughlin’s Exchanging Lives (Backwaters Press) from the end to the beginning. In reverse order the poems are still good, and you can pick up on the strong interconnectedness of the poems. I also realized in the backwards reading that there is a purposeful order, and, in reading backwards, I felt I was undoing some thinking.

So, I read Exchanging Lives forward, as one should for this book, and, as I did, I realized the book thinks forward. It thinks through things. And the thinking builds. It builds on previous images, ideas, musical riffs, and, especially, tones.

Even though the book builds poem upon poem and creates forward momentum, each poem doesn’t necessarily click shut at the end, as one might want or expect. But then again, the poems in Exchanging Lives probably shouldn’t click shut because McLaughlin has uncertainty. Even his metaphors are uncertain. For instance, “The sky clears like a throat that will not clear” (“The Wake”). How about that for an image? How about that frustration?

Look, I’ve got some things I’m sure of, like usury being evil. But each day I see different shades of its evil or its impacts of evil or lesser amounts of its evil. However, what I am sure of is not quite as hard as an Emersonian cannon ball. Instead, it is “as if a cloud passed / and left its shadow there” (“Empty Vessel”). And that’s what these poems are – a residue of McLaughlin’s confusion.

But back to the image of the sky clearing “like a throat that will not clear.” This image illustrates how this book thinks. The book revolves around McLaughlin’s certainties like “stars,” “trains,” “gravity,” “leaves,” “Carl,” and some other images and ideas. However, even though these certainties gather varying nuances as the book moves forward (like my views on usury), they are the only things he understands of life and death, they are what makes him whole, they are what allows him to communicate with others, and what allows him to exchange lives with others, despite the insistence that those certainties are just a “handful of earth between” life and death.//

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McLaughlin, Damon. Exchanging Lives. Omaha, NE: Backwaters Press, 2008.//


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