The Dustbowl by Jim Goar

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Ghost town. Tumbleweed. Ain’t
got not home. Ain’t got no home.
But an echo. A stutter. The land
like magic shit. Behold the
dustbowl. That Damn-ward sun.
Big as your fist. Sit on Plymouth
Rock. I’ll sit below. Con-
templating West. Forget-me-not.

This lyric starts off Jim Goar’s The Dustbowl, a book comprised mainly of the title poem, a long lyric sequence that, as the book cover explains, “intertwine[s] Arthurian legend and Dust Bowl Americana with fragmented memories of Arizona and California.” The description intrigued me right away, imagining a whirlwind of narratives. As evidenced in the above lyric, what guides and shapes the emotional tone of the sequence is the poet’s use of short, elliptic phrasing as well as his choice in what fragments to bring together. In a lyric that begins with “Ghost town” and ends with “Forget-me-not” the stakes are made clear from the beginning.

This kind of evocative lyrical selection is exhibited throughout. The following lyric, for example, derives its charm from not only what it brings in but what it does with it:

Shook The Tree. No knowledge came
tumbling down. A great gift of snakes.
Here today. Gone tomorrow. Naked
as the day I was born. And then
there was night. A dustbowl blown in.
Drank from that cold bitter cup. The quest-
ion remained. Un-answered. Voices
in the other room. Mirror Mirror th-
rough the wall. Green apples fall like rain.

While the biblical connotations of “Tree” are followed through with “snakes” in the first two lines, the surprise in reading is the echo at the end of the lyric, the phrase “Green apples fall like rain” shocking the reader’s senses both in a narrative and sensorial way. The break in the preceding line (Mirror Mirror th-/rough the wall) also works to not only turn a fairy tale phrase towards a new meaning but also to evoke the storm. By breaking up the word (th-/rough) the speaker brings in the verb “rough” and thus the sound of hard wind against the wall, which then leads to “Green apples.”

Goar does a great job throughout the sequence of inhabiting the multiple narratives through idiosyncratic turns of phrase and typography. Goar also brings in various allusions – from Woody Guthrie to The Wasteland and Cylons – all of which add their respective colors to the expansive work. Despite these added meanings, not everything needs to be caught to be caught up in the work. What the short phrases of the lyrics do is give a sense of wind gusting by. Add this effect to the shifting narrative, and you get a reading experience of tumbleweed caught up in various stories. The pleasure in reading this sequence comes as much from keeping up with what the poem’s narratives are doing as following Goar’s poetic efforts, at turns intellectually as well as physically evocative:

Found the table set with bitter eggs. Rode
until they were no more. The Holy Grail
fades away. This is my body. Her tongue has
turned to dust. Once upon a time. Called
everything stone. It was not so. Camelot was
something else. A city in my lady’s hand.
Lick me, she said. Liquor, I did. Removed her
glass slipper. A voice I’d heard before. This
woman without end. Wrapped inside my armor.

The book also contains an “other poems” section, a series of lyrics that give keys into Goar’s style and sensibility. The highlight for me, “Chasing Thomas Hardy,” stands out not only for its craftsmanship (Goar takes on Hardy’s penchant for self-made forms as well as the maestro’s diction) but as well for its relation with the rest of the work in this book, solidifying the impression of a poet whose sensibilities of form allow for praise, wit, and dirge.

The Dustbowl is available from Shearsman Books

Jose Angel Araguz, author of the chapbook The Wall (Tiger’s Eye Press), is a CantoMundo fellow. Hailing from Corpus Christi, Texas, he has had poems recently in Barrow Street, RHINO, Hanging Loose and Poet Lore. He is presently pursuing a PhD in Creative Writing at the University of Cincinnati. He runs the poetry blog, The Friday Influence.

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