Review: ‘otherwise elsewhere’ – David Rivard

Otherwise Elsewhere: PoemsOtherwise Elsewhere: Poems by David Rivard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If I am tempted very much to say that I admire the complexity and depth of Rivard’s poetry, I can only do so while giving even greater recognition to the deftness with which he constructs these pieces, the way the layers are laid out line after line with a subtlety that is its own kind of wit. What is enviable is that this wit is a finely-honed wit but Rivard leaves no trace of his labor, gives no impression of laborious ‘craftwork’ endured to reach this particular landscape.

That is all to say the kind of rich, detailed kind of attention fueling the imaginative effort throughout these poems seems quite effortless despite the often brilliant turns his lines take, his metaphors often surprising not with an element of juxtapositions that seem to form the strangest of neighbors and only that, but that the strangeness is never all that strange. We wonder if they haven’t been neighbors all along and most importantly, why didn’t we see them before Rivard revealed them to us, as if he had been given a special tour of this landscape?

This kind of curation is often best exemplified in Rivard’s use of listing in his poems; here’s one my favorite examples:

“and having come home once more
for a little while longer
we will be able to go on helping ourselves then
to the Frenched rack of lamb
or an uninhibited pit bull
encrypted lap top’
or pen knife–
an accidental & systemic form of self-inventing life–
and the container ships will go on mutating across sea lanes
carrying cartons
of bath towels hardwoods & pixels”

and here is another:

“and at the muffler shop
the crawl line reminded viewers repeatedly

that the dead researches had taken as their clan tag
the name True China Gamers,

and then there were jests
and serious sad agreements to kill for love

inside the dimly-lit school hall then
the 6th graders dashed in & out of ‘Twelfth Night'”

Rivard’s wit also exerts itself in the more direct notion of the word, often producing a conversational quality that is both humorous and genuinely sad, stemming many times out of a reflecting nostalgia still trying to suss out some kind of wisdom of the world for both the speaker and perhaps for others, for an unsentimental kind of wisdom that one might be able to pass on somehow to someone else, a striving for that mode of kindness even if it feels mostly impossible, something intangible that for all our wants is perhaps best to remain out of reach for anyone’s articulation:

“And soon enough there was rain
over all the Elizabeths. And a skiff embarked across the bay.
But no student at exam time in any school anywhere
would claim this has a storyline or plot. Only now & again
did it make sense.”

So the struggle over the ephemeral must continue, as it always has, whether the answers sought are of realms political, religious, of the intellect or of the heart. Rivard seems to imply to me that of course it’s not the destination but really the journey is often without rewards as well, but still the work goes on, and he does so in this book that finds itself doing its work among the ranges and expanses, not only physically but in manners of class, race, and any other kind, really. There are gestures here towards a kind of acknowledged, failed universality, which is absolutely not to say that Rivard doesn’t manage to get beyond himself; these poems never stay close to home, are inherently of a broader and more wild breed, are somehow always, as the book’s title offers, other places, other times, elsewhere from whatever this place might be.

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