Brant Lyon: You Are White Inside
You Are White Inside by B. R. Lyon, Three Rooms Press, 2011
(Personal note: This review was written before Brant’s sudden passing on May 12. Since my grandmother’s name was Lyon I’ve always claimed Brant as a cousin. If not closely related by blood we were poetic cousins certainly. I invited Brant to feature recently at the reading I run in GainVille Cafe, Rutherford, NJ, and he came out and read many of the poems in his wonderful new book. We swapped books and I was knocked out by his as you saw above. I’m glad I told him I was impressed with his work, and glad I had him out to GainVille for a deeply felt curtain call. I wish he could have read this review, which will run in the next issue of the Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow. He leaves us at a very high point indeed with this stunning work about the triumph of love. Bravo, Brant!)
You Are White Inside is a very satisfying book of poetry. It has a shapely arc, is entranced with word play (a good thing), and it sings about love in an upbeat dare-to-hope-for way. And, after having followed it around until you think you know everything that?s going on, the last poem will give you a huge and pleasant surprise.
Brant Lyon’s collection declares artfulness immediately. While many poets celebrate the senses, I became aware in this book of the prominence of one of them, the sense of smell. Lyon declares this, and defines himself, in the second poem of the collection, “Oaths.” I am a scrivener with a red moist nose, he says. And the things he smells are hugely important to the work, going right through the last poem “Unfinished Business,” which starts by smelling a flower and then, lest that seem too poetic, kvetches perfume gives me a headache, and tries to plumb his relationship with his mother by saying I sniffed your charmed car coat. The olfactory sense guides Lyon again and again through the maze of the book. (I use this word to mean both confinement and amazement.)
More artfulness: Lyon can use the same word in a poem as two different parts of speech, like noun and verb. Here’s one: canoptic jars (used in Egyptian mummifying) is used as a noun but becomes a verb just a few lines later: vibrating buses jar images of sons. Other word pairs I noticed were fellah and fellaheen and sheathed and unsheathed. More poets should do this.
You Are White Inside fully hits its stride in the second part, also called “You Are White Inside.” Here Lyon travels to adventurous sands with a series of poems about a longterm relationship he has had with an Egyptian man. The blankness of white brings up the terrifying specter of the white whale, but that’s not really where he is going. In fact, it is the opposite direction.
“You Are White Inside,” the section that is, is a series of love poems celebrating (and puzzling and sniffing out) the two lovers’ bi-continental relationship. Not everything is wonderful (the virus rears its ugly head) but it is mostly wonderful. I was especially knocked out by poems called “The Egyptian Day Falls on the 13th” and “Omoo Hassan” (didn’t Melville write a novel called Omoo?). When you write poems like this the haunts over your shoulder aren’t the Melvilles but rather the Rumis and the Shakespeares. These poems are both understated and overwhelming. I’m tempted to rank them but I’ll settle for this: they are beautiful.
The book ends with an unexpected (to me) revelation and the prospect of a little more happiness in the world. If this was a Greek tragedy, you’d call this the deus ex machina. But it isn’t a tragedy. In searching around for a different classical metaphor that more aptly describes You Are White Inside, I’d go for the parade the Romans gave their generals after a return from adventurous sands (including Egypt!).
I’d call it a triumph.
You Are White Inside by B. R. Lyon, Three Rooms Press, 2011. ISBN: 978-0983581321
Mark Fogarty has had fiction and poetry published in numerous journals including Footwork, Hawaii Review, Viet Nam Generation, Eclectic Literary Forum, Cokefishing in Alpha Beat Soup, and The Unrorean. He is managing editor of The Rutherford Red Wheelbarrow. Mark is also is a journalist and musician.
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