JENNIFER CAMPBELL Reviews
Going with the Flow by Peter Siedlecki
(BlazeVOX Books, New York, 2014)
Going with the Flow is a book addressed to anyone who has concern over his own “going.” A poet-philosopher studying aging from the inside-out, Peter Siedlecki explores the concept of old age in a vein similar to Plato’s dialectical method. Standout poems such as “Deciding to Retire,” “Child’s Play: A Retirement Poem,” and “On Receiving a Mailing from Forest Lawn” represent various iterations of the theme. There are moments of great humor, along with expressions of frustration and resignation. As in Plato’s Theory of Forms, the poems reveal the temporal in an attempt to understand the immutable archetypes that provide order and structure to the world. In the title poem, which is the first poem in the collection, Siedlecki offers the reader the first of many contradictions: is aging “a sad death of summer” that happens in gorgeous “blazes of color”? Inconsistencies are brought to light by the poet; the aging man wants “to connect to antiquity” yet concedes “I will die, and you will wail / and misremember me as perfect.”
Even as the poet leads the reader through his study with logic, he grants in “More Theology”:
We have reasoned god out,
with our “Thees” and “Thous”
only because reason is what we have
to turn into whatever we need,
the bricks and mortar
of which we build
the most absurd structures.
In fact, some poems are structured primarily from questions, in a modern Socratic method—“Untimely Death” is an effective example of this technique:
When is death timely?
when it comes like a chemical
to kill the hideous worm
devouring the victim from within?
Or when, in the midst of dark storms
and hideous worms, it comes to stifle
the dear memory of lilacs?
“The Dangers of Poetry” also concerns itself with the issue of a single poem being treated as The Truth. Though a great majority of the pieces in the book deal with aging or a breakdown of the physical body, Siedlecki’s treatment of the issue echoes the famous teachings of Heraclitus; the same idea does not appear twice. The realm of the earthly body is ever in flux, and treated with care in every situation and scene. Poems about birds, artwork, music, and sports stand out in this context. “The Over-Fifty Skate and Shoot” is the longest poem in the collection, and this whimsical journey about what the body wants versus what the body is capable of ends in homage to the literary illuminati of the poet’s generation.
One can read, and reread, the poems, finding new insights and fine-tunings each time. The calm, tender pieces about fatherhood ground the book in reality even while they speak to the universal notion of changing generations:
The perfect son has donned the scholar’s robes
and taken to that road,
leaving his father
to store away the outgrown things.
Old age a sort of music unavailable to a young ear, the natural world curls around the poet’s pen like a pet—redefining and repositioning the concepts of aging and dying until they become much more than an eager exercise in semantics. “Swallow your made meanings,” the poet insists. Dying is an art Peter Siedlecki doesn’t want to master, yet such an exhilarating set of dialogues should be embraced, again and again:
now, let us rise as one,
as when the ball
just clears the fence,
and voice our rejoicing.
Jennifer Campbell is an English professor in Buffalo, NY, and a co-editor of Earth’s Daughters. Her second book of poetry, Supposed to Love, was published by Saddle Road Press in 2013. Recent work appears in Saranac Review, Off the Coast, The Prompt, Oyez Review, Common Ground Review, Sow’s Ear, Fugue, The Healing Muse, The Pedestal, and Slipstream, and is forthcoming in Comstock Review and Seems.