cover image The Case Against Happiness

The Case Against Happiness

Jean-Paul Pecqueur, . . Alice James, $14.95 (64pp) ISBN 978-1-882295-59-3

The poems in Pecqueur's debut are sweet, sometimes surreal and often mired in pop culture. Phrases much overused in the contemporary American lexicon—"so sue me," "chill pill," "been there, done that"—all appear in a kind of postironic bid for the importance of the commonplace. Pecqueur finds inspiration at the barbershop and the shoe store, where a salesclerk "tells me, as he's lacing a pair/ of coffee-with-cream oxfords,/ that the song playing on the radio,/ a muzaked version of The Way / We Were , has always reminded him/ of how everyone must die." This sort of smalltime philosophizing and romanticizing the minutiae of life can prove dull after a while, but the poet shows a knack for simile and a deep dedication to craft, as when a man's shirt beautifully becomes "the one whose mother-of-pearl buttons stand out from the turquoise/ rayon like a hermit thrush in a clearing." There are enough beautiful passages, and enough wry and surprising moments, to qualify this as a worthwhile read by a promising poet with a generosity of spirit and the knowledge that "joy is not impossible." (Nov.)