Stephen C. Pollock’s Exits is an accomplished, beautifully produced poetry chapbook with themes ranging from the meditative and spiritual, centered in the natural world, to narrative works of personal and public history.
The book is comprised of 19 free-verse and neo-formal poems. Each is paired with a striking visual, typically an art photograph. Sometimes the relationship between text and image is direct and explicit. For instance, the poem “Seeds” appears beside a photograph of a goldfinch and begins, “A goldfinch whose yellow rivals the sun/ could cull any bloom this garden has grown.” Other times, as in “War Crimes,” readers contemplate a colorful, mixed media print (in this case, depicting a butterfly), then enter the affecting poem through the speaker’s memory: “That spring/ when I was five/ I burned a hole/ in the wing/ of a butterfly—/ one not deceased/ but alive/ and whole/ and wanting to be released.”
Pollock’s vocabulary is both precise and expansive: “Nurse says there’s a mass. I hear/ a requiem, see gothic arches where/ alae and columella frame a nare/ and its twin […]”. Such incisive diction conjures vivid images, further enhanced by an actual picture on an adjoining page.
Ordinary and familiar objects become stunningly fresh in Pollack’s hands, as in “Tube,” which describes a tube of toothpaste this way: “Crest seemed apt at a time when I/ was iconic:/ cylindrical chest,/ torso tapered to a terminal seam,/ gleaming/ and clean as an airfoil.” The unexpected analogy between the speaker’s body and the toothpaste tube keeps readers leaning in for more brilliant surprises.
The collection also includes elements of social and eco critique, discussion of ancient myths and contemporary events. As such, Exits is wide in scope and would benefit from a clearer arrangement of poems by place, time, and focus.
Overall, though, this is a lovely book, filled with breathtaking moments. Readers of contemporary poetry will find a thought-provoking work of literary merit in these pages.