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The Dark Side of Life vs The Bright Side of Life

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by Veronica Lamont 

PublishAmerica, 2005

[Further publication details to come]


It’s an ingenious idea, producing a book of poetry on the dual theme of The Dark Side of Life and The Bright Side of Life. Veronica Lamont has worked hard to ensure that the poems in this volume conform, at least loosely, to these themes. The outcome is a work that can be read like a story or a series of stories.

The trouble with this approach is that it takes either a very inspired poet or a very experienced one to carry it off effectively. Veronica Lamont is not experienced, this being her first published collection, and she has not acquired the knack of turning out verses of genius to order. Her inspiration runs dry as quickly as the ink in a printer cartridge. Many of the resulting poems bear a suspicious resemblance to the output of a creative writing class of variable ability. (I should know; over the years I’ve produced enough mediocre poetry to fill several volumes.)

The beginning is not auspicious. No joke -- I genuinely mistook the contents page for the first poem until I looked more closely. Ms Lamont’s actual opener, May the Devil Salute You, has nothing striking about it, and we may even find ourselves wondering whether it is worth reading on. It is worth it, but the restrictions placed on both reader and writer by the choice of theme militate against the desire to skip a few pages and pick up the threads at a later stage. I wanted to know how the theme would be developed, and that was my second mistake, because it doesn’t really develop at all. There is no hidden meaning behind the title. This is simply an anthology of poems grouped into two sections, some about nice things and some about nasty things.

Any reader can tell that there is real feeling behind some of these poems. Kids Can Be Cruel, for example, represents the author’s sympathy, or maybe empathy, for bullied children everywhere, and we sense that memories are mixed with imagination to create this picture, even if the advice offered sounds a little simplistic:

"Smile and stick around

and be their friend!"

Homelessness, prostitution, crime and suicide, all these themes are explored in the first half of the collection, but none of them very deeply.

So what of The Bright Side of Life? In this second part, the author brings together all that is good about life – love, hope, the home and family, friendship. Once again, the poems are conventional and there is nothing more exciting than a warm feeling to be obtained from reading them. And I doubt if Veronica Lamont is looking for anything more. She has set herself the task of cheering us up, la Patience Strong, and for many of her readers, she will have succeeded. Don’t knock it.

There is no such thing as bad poetry, but to be published commercially in the twenty-first century a poet needs to offer something more. It is not enough to create rhythm and rhyme, which is why no one is going to be chasing the author with a publishing contract on the strength of this collection. The history of poetry is littered with immature verses produced by poets who would go on to create works of genius. For all I know, Veronica Lamont may one day join their number.

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher