Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Book 37, St Maarten: W. R. Groman's "Oasis of the Sea: Sint Maarten Sonnets"

Blogger has stats now, so I know what countries my readers come from (Singapore=453; USA=425; Brazil=22; UAE=13), and that my all-time most popular page is my review of the unknown, younger-than-me, just-published-this-year-on-Kindle-author Ze Lin Xiao from American Samoa.

Who'd've thunk? But now I'm gearing up for another hitstorm, because I'm reviewing another unknown, younger-than-me, just-published-this-year-on-Kindle-author, W.R. Groman from... well, I don't know where he's from, really.

He has a poetry blog, where he writes in both English and Spanish. He's one degree of separation from me via Facebook, so I know he's Brown '04 and Harvard grad school. But that's it in terms of biography. I could assume he's American, but who knows for sure? Ze Lin's Samoan, and she's at Stamford.

His poems are verbose, cerebral and weirdly archaic (they're Shakespearean sonnets after all; slant-rhymed, but still!). None of the expected paeans to the sun and the sea; instead we've got lizards and satyrs and dusty streets with discordant jazz music, but not in a social realist style either - no, the true nation of the 28 sonnets in this chapbook is Groman's head. He occasionally lights on a theme directly related to the setting: oil slicks, orange blossoms, Spanish vocabulary, black boatmen - but certain sonnets are simply about his mind wandering, trying to find its place in the universe between flesh and ether and "the panorama/of sand and lizards and children and streets/washed over by the goats' glaze and drama".

Honestly, I'm not engaged. There's no hook - the language is unexpected but not fresh, obscure but not musical, not magical. I can't find a good reason to follow him on his quest for truth.

Structurally, the poems are rather fine, of course: this isn't a Creative Writing 101 emo-fest, but real products of skill. Plus, I rather like the fact that he's dwelling on grunge rather than rose-tinted tourist brochure shots.

(What's rather odd is that he does pepper the text with rose-tinted tourist brochure shots of the beaches and landscapes of St Maarten. Very odd effect. It's like throwing in photos of the Lake District or Guilin into the folder notes of a Nine Inch Nails album. This is one of the clues that makes me think he's not an actual native of St Maarten... but who knows, really? Maybe he's estranged.)

View Around the World in 80 Books in a larger map

Small grumble, though: if I'd been thinking properly when I read A Trip to the Beach, I would've realised that only the southern half of this island is the Dutch country of Sint Maarten, part of the former Netherlands Antilles; the upper half is the French collectivity of Saint Martin, administered by Guadeloupe.

So by coming directly here from Anguilla, I'm actually violating one of my own rules about crossing other nations on the way between stops. Bugger. The god of literary blogging will forgive me, I'm sure.

I'm including one of the few poems in the the chapbook that I really like. I know the fair use claim is iffy here, so I'll take it down if he asks me.

Representative quote:

The rain has softened into fresh linen,
but these bloodshot eyes still remember,
on this island of goats, fruit and venom,
in this month six months before December:
the porch was on fire, the hammock singed
down, and the lovely light green almost grayed
away into nothing - a light bulb binged
and purged on its own power and sprayed:
This whole island is purgation, vomit-
even the waves spew forth firewaters,
and certain hooves dance on tails and dumb it
down, and the lights leak lies made of fathers:
This must be the oasis of the seas,
where sand and salt and steel forge reveries.

Next book: Jean Heyn's The Governor-General's Lady, from the US Virgin Islands.

No comments: