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Pneumatrix: a Poetic Soul

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Success Stories

by Derly Andre

ISBN 1419608819
Tico Publishing, 2005
164pp, hardback
Retail price 15.99

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Reviewing poetry with impartiality can be a problem. Even more than with other genres, the appreciation of poetry demands that the reader be on the same wavelength as the poet. If you are not, there is not much you can do about it. As the editor, Arnold Tijerina, says in his foreword, "Poetry is a personal journey not only for the writer but also for the reader".

Frankly, I don’t think I am on the same wavelength as Derly Andre. It is not that the poems are old-fashioned, with their somewhat self-conscious use of alliteration and the determination to preserve a semblance of rhyme and rhythm. Far from it; I admire any poet who makes the effort to maintain a structure within his or her work. Perversely, perhaps, it is the very evenness of the whole that disturbs me. There is little alteration in the mood from one poem to the next, if indeed there can be said to be a mood at all. The word "mood" suggests, well, moodiness, and this poet comes across as super-cool, so laid-back he might almost fall over.

The vocabulary is a bit of a clue to this. Words like "dream", "whisper" and "harmony" are found throughout. If I had longer, I would have counted them up and sent the results to Derly Andre, as a lesson for the future. It is as though the poet is striving for a higher level of expression. A lot of people believe that poetry must be expressed "poetically", but have a basic misconception of what "poetic" means. A medieval audience would have loved these poems for the way they concentrate on the general rather than the particular, an effect the troubadours consciously aimed for because it was meant to give them a better chance of making themselves understood.

The explanation, I suppose, lies in the author’s deep religious belief, which is not over-stated but nevertheless pervades the book with a kind of peaceful contentment. I’m a Christian too, but I find it hard to meet adversity with the kind of equanimity summoned up by these poems. As so often with books that have a religious undertone, whatever the genre, I’m inclined to feel that any intended message is going to be lost on most of the people who read it – though I daresay Derly Andre will be perfectly satisfied if even one lost soul finds comfort in his words.

The collection is arranged in sections, which are intended to represent different phases or aspects of the poet’s life, eg. "Growing up" and "Relationships". The illustrations (by Heidi Guedel) and notes (sometimes short stories) with which the poems are interspersed are a great idea, especially when they remind us that these poems were written by a human being who has had the same experiences as the rest of us. In many ways these little homilies are the most interesting part of the book. For me, the only poems that stand out are the ones that deal in a more physical way with run-of-the-mill things like mealtimes and shopping, not the ideals of dreams or harmony or stillness.

After a few hundred years and the invention of printing, the troubadours ran out of generalisations and no longer sought to be the same as everyone else. They began to seek originality, memorability, novelty. These are the things that readers tend to prize today, and that is why I feel that Pneumatrix is essentially misconceived. If you wanted to save lost souls, you would need to write about the things they understand – divorce, depression, drugs. If, on the other hand, you only want to express yourself, why publish?

Open Book

Review by Deborah Fisher

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