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Continued: REVIEWS: 'Engraved,' by Anna George Meek; 'Albedo,' by Kathleen Jesme; 'Buddha, Proof,' by Su Smallen, and 'El Dorado,' by Peter Campion

  • Article by: ELIZABETH HOOVER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Last update: April 13, 2014 - 10:13 AM

Peter Campion writes: “That digital tremor, that hard-wiring burning / that signals just beyond beyond beyond.” Awash in signals — televisions, cellphones, car radios — we are distracted from the here and now. Campion roots his poems in time and place, not by tuning out those signals, but by integrating them into rich meditations on place.

Cellphone conversations “spidering air with bargains and blandishments” become “one primal invocation” when woven with fragmented images, information from ubiquitous televisions and Campion’s own observations.

In “Concourse C,” Campion also adds his translations of Anglo-Saxon riddles: “Who is so smart / that he can tell who drives my outcast force?” These lend a sense of grandiosity to the banal space of an airport.

He elevates what most consider no more than digital ephemera with lavish descriptions. An anchor’s face has “pixilated features / slackening back to sympathetic grimace.”

As moments spiral outward, Campion anchors his work in specific places with titles like “Car Radio Near Cleveland Near Dawn,” “1995: The Sawtooths” and “Boston: Red Hair.”

Lacking the cynicism that marks much writing about pop culture, these poems radiate with sympathy for others. A man is full of “embarrassment / tremoring through him like dismay or fear / whose cause had fogged, forgotten.”

In Campion’s poems, the speaker listens, remembers and records. Even in liminal spaces like waiting rooms and highways, he searches for America’s “barely knowable soul / swift as an eel escaping the slit mesh.”

Peter Campion will read at 7 p.m. Friday at Common Good Books in St. Paul.

 

“Buddah, Proof: New Expanded Edition,” by Su Smallen. (Red Dragonfly Press, 49 pages, $15.)

 

Su Smallen’s approach to Buddhism is an “American embrace,” emphasizing humor, happiness, compassion. In 30 poems imagining Buddha in contemporary settings — eating Cheerios, shopping at Target, stuck in traffic — she coaxes readers to contemplation with a light touch.

Buddha likes Target “because it is easy / to attain Empty Mind / there.” He loves the single setting on his toaster because he can make toast and “not-toast.” “A complete meal, most satisfying.”

Placing Buddha in unexpected contexts creates humor and allows Smallen to argue that principles of mindfulness are relevant in a traffic jam “simulat[ing] a vow of silence” or on a roller coaster “for the / sensation of each / moment … gyroscopic bones / and gut intelligence / and tuned by laughing.”

Her other protagonist, Barbie, appears in more poignant poems emphasizing compassion. When Buddha instructs Barbie to “empty yourself of concept,” she cries, “I’m nothing but concept!” Barbie wonders about the wife Buddha left to take on a life of asceticism. She imagines he “just / blew out the candle of everything / She thought she knew about her life.”

Other poems resemble Koans, or statements meant to provoke doubt in the student of Zen. In one, windshield wipers “advise ‘panic panic panic’ / until Buddha laughed.” A poem ends: “Buddha is dog and duck, Buddha is muskrat and squirrel.”

In this slender volume, Smallen succeeds in introducing major concepts of Buddhism in a way that is welcoming, approachable and full of joy.

 

  • related content

  • Four local poets gathered for a portrait. From left, Su Smallen, Anna George Meek, Peter Campion, and Kathleen Jesme.

  • "El Dorado," by Peter Campion

  • "Buddha, Proof," by Su Smallen

  • "Engraved," by Anna George Meek

  • "Albedo," by Kathleen Jesme

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