Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Review of David Chorlton’s Speech Scroll

By Greg Gilbert
               Speech Scroll, the most recent book by the prolific David Chorlton, offers 158 eighteen line poems that follow the path of his desert world through the seasons of a calendar year, winter to winter. David, who grew up in Manchester, England, moved to Austria in 1971 before making his home in Phoenix in 1978, alongside his wife, Roberta, a violinist and an Arizona native. Residents of the Morongo Basin may recall David sharing passages, a little more than a year ago, from Reading T.S. Eliot to a Bird at Space Cowboy while accompanied by his wife’s violin. As a transplant from rainy, industrial Manchester, David’s keen poetic observations of desert life and America offer the reader a companionable take on his new world.

                Among the many reasons to appreciate David’s latest tome is that the poetry offers a feeling of a long walk with a close observer. His poems follow the sun, study the natural world, and comment with incisive wit on the background noise of social and political happenings. While he avoids heavy handed didactics, his images are instructive. In poem (10) “. . . Another slice falls / from the Earth: a forest disappears,” and later in the same poem, “. . . The circling hawk can’t find / the bough he perched on yesterday.” Most wonderfully, David’s work employs humor, often with a bite. In poem (13) he considers the instructions for assembling his day, “. . . There’s a handle / and a washer and flowers and / weeds and religions and opinions / and the print with deceptions / is as small as that for truth.” David’s eye for details reveals a mind of nesting dolls where ironies and inferences join hands and allow readers to draw their own conclusions: “the universe expands, the noonday sun / turns cartwheels over / the golf course pond. The unemployment / rate comes down, goes up, / and the hourly rate / for leisure stays the same (15). In (17) he writes “. . . The ocean / can’t cough up the plastic.” And later in the same poem, “. . . We’d put ice / on the wounds, but it’s melting / fast and depression / moves into its place.”

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                Throughout the book, David’s poems, for the most part, begin with simple sentences, an actor acting (“The night sky peels away,” “The light cuts,” “The sky drinks,”), and once the reader is anchored within an action, he introduces a blend of characters and a dynamic setting where disparate images often encounter one another, as in (19): “Today weighs lightly on the mountain’s back / A thrasher on the mailbox / waits for the news. / The trees along the street soak up / what light remains / now that starlings have stripped / the feeder to its metal frame / and the president is lonely / with nothing but his power / for company.”  These are poems that simultaneously take us everywhere while remaining grounded in the passing seasons of the desert. The problem with reviewing David’s book is that there is so much to want to share, phrases where one stops reading to linger on the moment, “On the country music station / the singer has a voice / covered in sequins . . .” (21); “History has granted / no charity / while the moon on the night / horizon is a coin / rolling in a metal begging bowl” (28); “. . . It doesn’t matter / which party is in power, / they pledge allegiance with their noses / to the prevailing winds” (34). As the poems move through the seasons, the natural world and news events, we experience a year in review, one very like our own thinking processes as the poems look everywhere and create contexts within contexts. In one poem, David considers the carcass of a coyote, its surprising smallness when viewed up close, and in the next poem (89), “. . . The supermarket shelves cry / Freedom! While the Senate / convenes to decide / who it’s for.”

                Taken as a whole, David Chorlton’s Speech Scroll offers a poetic journal of higher innocence that travels a circuit between the noise of the world and the silent vacancy that is his ultimate source. Perhaps that explains the haiku incisiveness of his observations and the moments of Zen laughter that his works evoke in this reader. With that, I’ll allow David the final word:


Reading an American poet who’s
reading a Chinese poet
who reads only the sky; where
does it end? May as well
go straight to the source,
that vacancy where everything
                      - David Chorlton

1 comment:

  1. I like the review shared by David! Thanks for supplying your ideas, suggestions and recommendations here. We are the ones who enjoyed your full blog!


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