In Search of Poetry is indeed a searching book, offering a wide variety of forms, styles and topics. It is a lively romp through the thoughts and impressions of an author who has a master’s degree in engineering from M.I.T. and an M.A. in music theory and composition.
Author James L. Marshall writes in a variety of voices. In “The Silent Guitarist,” the narrator mixes a bemused tone with Shakespearean syntax: “That neglected surrogate [a guitar], half normal size / // Then through a window, early one morn, / I saw that mumbling man perform, / As the depth of his blues he’d there confront, / before moving on to the trash truck out front.”
In “Spring Fantasy,” he displays a more baldly emotional tone: “Since the day your message came, / Dreams of spring have stroked my mind. / Its yearned-for arrival, with yours entwined, / Will be the fulfillment of those dreams.” This poem employs a graceful simile: “…my frozen self will yield, / Pliant as grain, golden and bending in wind o’er the field.” While the image feels fairly familiar, the use of alliteration in “grain” and golden” unifies the idea in a way that shows that Marshall’s agility with language.
Each of the poems in this collection could be subjected to a brief “pro” and “con” analysis such as the one above. They all contain some moment of surprise or pleasure through an economical turn of phrase or an engaging piece of musicality (e.g. the slant rhyme “stroll” and mall” on page 60), but each could benefit from some editing, some tightening up of slack lines or busy adjectives.
Many of the poems have a reflective bent, and some readers might crave a little more urgency, a little more danger. That said, these poems are the evidence of an educated, cultivated, wide-ranging, and lively mind that makes them well worth a look.
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