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February 2008 - Review: Jamieson
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21st Century Bread
by Leland Jamieson, 2007
ISBN 978-1-4303-1734-0
Paper / 144 pgs. / $17.95 US

Jamieson's Website

OUT-look: a review
Dallas J. Bryant

                                          Bread at Every Meal:
                                      Leland Jamieson's 21st Century Bread

        21st Century Bread is a jam-packed collection — stories within poems, miniature celebrations of color, of detail, of musical insistence. The book is a veritable smorgasbord of rhythmic rations served up in broad sections like six, huge dinner courses (plus apéritif and after-mint).

        Leland Jamieson is a poet dedicated to the playfulness of rhyme and iambic meter. He makes for his subjects the intimate stories of people and their emotions, and occasionally, impressions from nature. While some of the poems included are surely somber in subject or tone, there exists the overriding joyousness the writer has for his craft, evident in word choices — often loud and jangling as New Year's Eve noisemakers — in juxtaposition to tragic, human circumstance. From The Bridge, the second poem in the first course of the book, The Glove: "He hears a piercing screech. What's that? Nearby? / The seat-back whacks his head, and he burps juice. //"

        Here's this boyish wonder and uncouth, all pre-herald to outside awareness. Still only half-cognizant, he barely discerns that his mother is crushed within the front seat of their car.

                        The windshield smacks his forehead like a stone!
                        He clasps his head. Big zig-zag cracks now wry
                        the glass. His head rings like a telephone.
                        Oh, Mommy! Mommy! Look!
I didn't cry!

        Many of the poems in this opening section are dedicated in memoriam. As with The Bridge, Jamieson's poem, Rapture in the Sun, is also dedicated "in memory of E.T.P.," but deals with much lighter fare, "the navel oranges Mom arranged / in her fresh centerpiece I changed / but slightly," and continues with a child salivating over his exploration of "the paler plugs inside of it, / spraying the sunlit air, flit by flit.//"

        Some of Jamieson's warmest, most festive poems involve food or eating— briefly, as in Blind Spot in the Restaurant, or as finale for one of my favorite poems in the collection, How Deep the Night!, set just after Christmas when a casual meeting brings invitation to dine (but the heat is temporarily turned down by accidental circumstance). Despite wintry woes, the daters do meet up, and "arm in arm against the cold, we two / strode down the hill and stepped across the street / where J's and K's stood in a short neat queue. / Inside, deep warmth . . . ‘Broiled chicken-halves! Beaucoup!' /" The portions overly generous, the gallant gentleman hails "a busboy for an extra plate. / ‘Prefer the breast and wing, or leg and thigh?" / She indicates the ‘breast alone' would be just great." Jamieson lays for us an appetizing setting of kindness, consideration, and of relationships — to food and comfort — with his narrator's asking, "‘Perhaps, now, this won't kill your appetite . . .?' / How late we talked and walked . . . ! How deep the night . . . !"

        Another favorite of mine, a simple poem from the Breaking Bread and Other Subtleties section, is Jamieson's Cobbler's Bench, which layers and blends images of the shoemaker's craft with metaphors of eating and drinking. It begins, "A coffee-table now, this cobbler's bench / complete with tools has creaked here many years / and gathered dust — and thirst it cannot quench." (Alas, I can't help but imagine Cherry Cobbler when I read the title!)

        The book's fifth section, Breaking 21st Century Bread, reflects an apparent personal interest of Jamieson's in theories put forth by author Zecharia Sitchin in his series, Earth Chronicles. In Jamieson's poem, Snake Oil Liniment, the narrator muses over a stony area where once likely "stood wheat // and barley, oats, potatoes, corn and all / its owners grew until the soil gave out — / ‘til they moved west with all that they could haul. //" He imagines past workers of the land using "snake oil liniment" to ease their aching joints and, perhaps, aching doubts about self-professed Gods.

        While the poems dished up in this next-to-last course are interesting and well-crafted, they seem slightly out of place with the rest of the collection, and clamor for a collection of their own, a chapbook, maybe. Which causes me to wonder at the size of 21st Century Bread — it's big enough to be considered two average poetry books, and perhaps it should have been. As it is, there's a hint of odd and voluminous ingredients cooked up together, and because of this, the whole loaf tastes a tad peculiar.

        21st Century Bread is, indeed, a feast of stories and sound, but perhaps the table is overladen? It would be easier to savor half as much an offering, to feel less glutted, if fewer dishes had been brought to the buffet. It would be my recommendation that readers sit down to many smaller, separate meals while reading this collection, to avoid feeling overstuffed.

        And while I have special fondness for formal verse and delicious rhymes, a refreshing course is served up with Jamieson's soothing sestina, Refracting of Rain (found back in section II: Knot-Popping Art). It's a break from the consistent rhyming throughout the book (but not meter — a challenge that Jamieson makes mincemeat of by sticking to a pattern of 4 iambs and 1 amphibrach per line!). This sestina depicts a deluge of rain, and the poet's diction is vivid and musical, even more so than in many of the story-like poems. It's ripe with powerful verbs: "in rivulets, merge, divide, converge in branches. / It seeps out weep-holes at the screen's base — sad water," and showcases the poet's dexterity.

        The final course, Coda for Readers & Poets: Twelve Dances, is presented in defense of Jamieson's choice to write primarily in formal, rhyming, metered verse. It's obvious he loves it and wishes more readers and writers to appreciate such forms. As I said above, I'm a fan. But I also have ample admiration for a good number of "Free Verse" poets and their often underrated skills. I can, however, be provoked to chuckle over Jamieson's poem, Springing Formal Tongues, for its laments about reverse prejudices against rhyme by free verse proponents.

                        I said to Freeverse, "Think! Make sense!
                        It's speech-stress springs the formal tongue
                        and heaves into the breeze its scents
                        and sights, its ear's delights — when wrung
                        from pulsing lines the poet's strung.

        Yes, 21st Century Bread hosts a feast of succulent sound, and formal poets everywhere should rejoice in Jamieson's adept treatments of lines and verses. I think that even free verse readers pleased by a clear voice, snappy enjambed lines and crisp iamb-gery can "party down" with this vast collection of readily-consumable poems.

Arts & Crafts Menu Border - Ca. 1910

Dallas J. Bryant is a U.S. West Coast photographer, graphic artist, writer/critic and occasional poet. He's also a part-time staff-contributor for The Centrifugal Eye.

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Sunday Dinner
Number Forty-two: Baking Powder Biscuit
"Sift together 2 cups flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, and 4 tbsps. butter. With a case knife mix in 3/4 cup rich milk. Mix well, turn on a floured board, knead lightly, roll to 1/2 inch thickness and shape with a small biscuit cutter. Set close together in a well greased shallow pan and bake 15 mins. in a hot oven." ~from New Dinners, ca. 1910.
Elizabeth O. Hiller

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