A Review of Poetry, Prose, and Art - Summer 2001
Almost, by Oliver Reynolds
Reviewed by Steve Harris
Love is the dominant theme in Oliver Reynold's collection
Almost. And the lover he calls forth — Helen — is classical,
timeless, elusive. But, like HD before him, Reynolds' makes
clear, in the opening poem "Palinode," this will be his retelling,
his Helen, imagined within the boundaries of the poet's memory
rather than that of remembered myth:
What is myth is not you.Reynolds' Helen is most fully realized in "14s for Helen." In the 14 stanzas of the poem, Reynolds moves as if in a dream. The poem portrays, seemingly, an idealized but contemporary love affair with a young woman that is also charged with elements of timeless myth. The opening stanzas are both startling and tender:
You are French. You're fourteen with long red hair.However, the outside world intrudes on the lovers, with the suggestion of death — with pennies on eyes, a celestial bus, a descent into the underworld:
The bus snorts, shudders, stops dead in its tracks.The poet, like Proust, is cocooned deeply within memory. He refuses to end the story; he leaves death as a fragment, only as part of the dream. The part of the dream that lives on is the memory of love. And, it lives on in the delicate tinkling of Helen's silver chain, an impression that is both fragile and enduring. Helen walks the walls of Reynold's memory in a way more erotic, more personal, more subject to metamorphosis than the static image of the Spartan queen.
You're English. You're my age. Your hair is brown and short.
Helen reappears in the poem "The Gap," which starts
at the store by that name, but quickly expands beyond the labels
and tags into so much more:
It's H and I've O.D.'d —Once again, Reynolds turns language toward the erotic, while having fun with the store's name:
Your white jeans had a workman's loop, handy for a hammer,As the lovers eat their meal in Chinatown, the narrator is humorously conflicted by the fact that Helen is more interested in another woman. He admires how ruthlessly she makes dispassionate judgements over future lovers, but wonders how her approach towards love will impact him. In "The Gap," Helen comes closer to the distant, mythological figure of cold beauty:
I like, and dislike, how your heart rebels
The final play on "gap" is the gap of the heartless, emotionally cold lover:
But I fret over whether not having a heart to giveAnother emotion Reynolds turns to in his collection is grief, which is, for the most part, beautifully realized in the six sonnet sequence "The Almost." Of course, this sequence is also about love, but love that is suffering through the loss of a daughter, heartbreakingly rendered here in the third poem of the sequence:
Your palm. Your hand. My face nuzzles your handUnfortunately, the last sonnet of the sequence falls short of the previous five, thus marring the overall effort. But often great writing has flaws in it, as if pinching us, telling us "yes," the writer is human.
Almost is a short collection and, at 54 pages, probably not much longer than a chapbook, but it is populated with a number of fine, memorable poems. Reynolds is a master of rhyme and form, so much so that he often experiments like a virtuoso who knows all the tricks. But most importantly, it is the lovely substance of his poems lingers. And that is as it should be.