cover image Traveling in Notions: The Stories of Gordon Penn

Traveling in Notions: The Stories of Gordon Penn

Michael J. Rosen, Barry Jason Stein. University of South Carolina Press, $14.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-1-57003-157-1

Rosen (A Drink at the Mirage) accomplishes a considerable a task: he tells the fragmented life story of a modern American everyman as a novel in poems. Gordon Penn is thoughtful, nostalgic, lonely, a widower and a quiet observer of the contemporary scene. He is a ""traveler in notions"" both as a traveling salesman of sewing supplies and as a man who mulls over the small events of everyday life, looking for a reason to be hopeful. This quest is not easy. Teasing out a word puzzle in the newspaper, Penn finds that ""The rest of his week's no less absurd,/ encoded, confused, invisibly inked."" Screening the family's old home movies, (""the brittle, loose, unlabeled, the unrewound""), Penn discovers that he had always been ""So preoccupied with the camera and its captive/ moment"" that he never found the perspective that would leave a clear record. More successfully, Rosen's poems capture moments in a life, focusing on such activities as Penn sorting through his mail, looking after the neighbor's dog or voting at his old elementary school. These moments accrue in Rosen's fine construction to give us an introspective, endearing, believable and finally hopeful character: ""The glimpse Penn catches of someone's reflection/ is himself...."" (Nov.)