Brian Henry. Talisman (SPD, dist.), $13.95 (88p) ISBN 978-1-584-98084-1
A nameless old man who “carries his smell with him / Wherever his smell takes him,” the antihero of Henry’s latest collection stands as a stark rejoinder to the placid and revelatory monologues that are a commonplace of many male poets. Suffering physical and mental decay that are rarely confronted in verse, Henry’s old man is stalked by a “shadow self”—a stand-in for both death and the old man himself, and a presence in which “the old man sees himself wherever/ The shadow self chooses/ To make itself seen.” Henry portrays the old man’s aggression in inventive compound words of his own invention: “pilldrenched sleepfisted pain,” “skinmuscleblood,” and “suckfist” sermons pepper these untitled poems, but it’s the slivers of the old man’s past life that truly illuminate his character. The morbid companionship shared between the shadow self and the old man, though thrilling on a cerebral level, cannot match the recollection of a “moment thirty/ Forty years ago/ When he went to England/ As planned/ And she never showed.” Stubborn as he and the old man are to show it, Henry achieves the greatest emotional impact when he sketches the old man’s wife, to whom his protagonist can confide that “no one wants to outlive his self.” (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 11/28/2011
Release date: 11/01/2011
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