In her short collection of poems One Never Eats Four from ELJ Publications, Samantha Duncan offers a scenic journey through the annals of the poet’s mind. At first, these poems appear loose, the images stacked together as they randomly cascade at you despite the beauty of the language. But as one reads on, the poems quickly tie together, existing not as sole entities, but as a series of interconnected thoughts, thoughts that follow the patterns of the human mind and narrative existence.
In her poem “Shifts,” Duncan works to translate the patterns of life, aging, and existence, and does so by casually and artfully commenting on humanity: “From this life, I don’t want a sonnet./ I can break down boxes that used/ to house kittens for a paycheck, and/ feel full of Vitamin C.” From kittens to vitamins, the reader sees life here and is forced to contemplate the meaning of otherwise menial events. The emptying of a box of kittens has so many implications as does the consumption of Vitamin C, but what do they mean, what do they mean here? Thus, as one advances through the pages, the payoff builds, the images collide, and poetic transcendence is found. We all think about something, say our shoes and somehow end up engrossed in a memory of that time we had a splinter in our forefinger when we were eight and the drop of blood it left on our right sock. Well, these moments, all too human, shape Duncan’s verse.
As mentioned above, much of the beauty is found in the language. It is simple, honed with a scalpel, and thus the images bounce off the page regardless of how connected they initially seem. For example, in “Growth” the introduction of a home inspection, a horrific side effect of selling one’s house where a strange person judges the condition of your home, ends in the discussion of poisoned flowers: “Home inspections permit/ a calendar cadence, a posture/ improvement. She began to/ forget the flowers I poisoned,/ routine was left uneaten.” The thoughts flow, they are seamless, and the reader must work here, must think and connect and imagine. The poetry works on us in only the way poetry can. It is here that Duncan excels, reminding the reader that thought, imagination, and emotion are part of the process.
Earlier, in “This Is Not a Well” Duncan employed the same mastery, this time focusing on the symbolic: “Imaginary water lies where water was, where/ my ribs are pencils that tickle your brain creases.” These ideas are desperate, yet connected just the same in a way that does tickle the brain. Yet Duncan can be overt, as seen in her poem “Fire” where she pens perhaps my favorite lines of the collection, lines that do a better job than a two-thousand work short story I’ve written on the same subject: “The hierarchy of citrus blazing in the front yard,/ hanging on cousin trees, orange, green, and yellow/ past wives, squeezed to the rinds until fluent in/ regeneration. Could feed the village, if there weren’t/ so many individual locked doors. Neighbor houses are/ mute pianos, nearly responsive to seduction.” Duncan comments on society, the castles we live in, the hidden nature of life, yet she does so with image based precision, choosing not slam the reader over the head, but rather to let the reader decipher, consider, and think.
You can purchase the collection here if interested.