Winter 2005-6

REVIEW - by James O'Donnell

Regarding "More Of Me Disappears," by John Amen

What appears when things disappear?

In John Amen's new collection, More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications, 2005), the North Carolina-based poet attempts to answer that question, examining in poem after poem the chimera of experience, its afterglow and its insubstantive aura, to bring his readers the glimmering essence of those experiences.

Amen is author of the earlier book Christening the Dancer, through Uccelli Press, and known best for his editorship of the influential Pedestal Magazine. His own poetry has revealed a frequently luminous character, building around and from themes of abuse, dysfunction, and disempowerment toward new vision and life.

Amen continues in that realm in More of Me Disappears, but demonstrates a growing confidence of voice and command of nuance.

His poems travel widely: to the Chinese of Chu Shu Chen, for example, in the poem "Vacillations," where "The sky stretches like a yogi; / yesterday was a nightmare that would not end; // today, that is forgotten; / butterflies christen my gables." To Arizona and to New York. To the interior places of the heart, as in the opening poem "The Consummation": "Without warning, / the river runs dry, its spine / as glutted and songless as any morgue."

Or to postwar Europe, from which his family escaped to settle in the Carolinas, as in "Verboten": "My aunt picks up a tray of empty / glasses and retreats to the kitchen. / 'Some questions,' my grandfather / says, rubbing an unblemished arm, / 'should not be asked.'"

Jimmy Santiago Baca describes Amen's work as "brimming with sweetness of our human frailty and uncertainty." Sweetness is certainly a part of this book's charm, but perhaps more telling are the comments of Ai, who voices the key to unlocking the door to these fine poems—declaring his work to be a thing which "announces itself in the absence of self."

As René Char once said, a poet must leave traces of his passage, not proof. In More of Me Disappears, Amen heeds Char's wise suggestion with a grace many of his contemporaries, hell-bent at inflamed self-examination, might well emulate.




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