Books

Star Trek, Poetry, and the Human Condition

A New Collection from Oregon Book Award Winner Tom Blood

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Tom Blood's The Raccoon is an unfurling. The collection of poems starts on the cover, where the table of contents is printed. Titles are arranged to stand alone as a poem, acting as a sort of style manual to the author's freewheeling craft—that of unrestrained, lyrical bursts and methodical revision. Once you dig in past the jacket, each piece expands upon this kernel.

"There is no intended theme or agenda," the local poet explained in an interview. "I didn't want to prove or disprove anything." And just as Raccoon's seed poem was arranged without didactic urge or grand overture in purpose or meaning, the rest of the collection follows, trailing as the extended language to what Blood refers to in the opening lines of the collection as "the ticked yes and no in the ROM of the soul"—the deepest order of selfhood, not to be questioned but experienced.

This propensity for bare emotion might sound familiar to those who read Blood's previous collection, The Sky Position (winner of the 2007 Oregon Book Award for Poetry). But it would be inaccurate to say that Raccoon is simply more of the same.

"I wanted [a book] that was grounded because Sky was so abstract," says Blood, "so ephemeral." And, in Sky's shadow, grounded it is. Expressions of the human condition are tucked between pop culture references and contemporary ideological tides; Bobby McFerrin and Terminator's war between man and machine are stumps to tie down human drama and abstraction.

The poem "Returning to the Non-Event" exemplifies approach: Here, Star Trek references play vehicle to a plea for the acceptance of emotional experience. Blood writes, "don't be a Vulcan about life/analyzing reactions to the oblivion/we are full of wounds and hope for empathy." This preference for direct experience is a central feature of the worldview posed in Raccoon.

And while that worldview is one of the rawest self-contact, in broadcasting through the aforementioned stumps, it clears a path for ontological discovery. "You Can Leave Your Life Once" finds the physical world as an entity of singular substance: "most things are almost a horse," writes Blood with thoughtful quirk.

But the largest discovery is the value of individual agency and experience—that in being "almost a horse," we should take advantage of what we are, because it won't last forever. The Raccoon shows Blood living as an example of that philosophy.

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