The synopsis on the back cover of Words to Live classifies the poems and aphorisms in the book as a “collection of thoughts and insight from over the years.” They are “meant to invoke all kinds of thoughts and emotions,” Dan Semenoff writes. Indeed Semenoff’s poems and maxims cover a broad range of topics, from prayers and spiritual inquiries, to relationship tribulations, to chance encounters and existential musings, but while they might provoke some thought, they are less successful at sparking emotion.
Throughout his writing, Semenoff’s offerings often resemble simplistic jottings from a journal. For instance, in one five-line poem he states, “I’m still/ looking/ for that/ great leap/ forward.” In an aphorism, he tells readers, “The type/ of people/ you pass/ every day/ are very/ interesting/ in their own/ little way.” Other poems and sayings express overly-familiar sentiments and truisms, as in: “isn’t it funny/ that we fight/ so hard/ for so long/ then/ when it’s over/ and to [sic] late/ do we/ then see.”
Although a little shopworn, Semenoff’s sentiments appear to come from the heart. (“I must be blind/ not to see/ for all I feel/ is injustice/ all around me.”) The problem with his poetry lies not in its content, but in its conveyance. The writing never rises to the heightened language necessary for skilled poetry. Instead, it offers a wealth of the kind of abstract thoughts that impede readers from seeing old ideas in fresh and evocative new ways. Instead of telling readers he feels injustice, for example, the author needs to make the reader feel it—in the details.
The scansion in Semenoff’s verse is also problematical. Many of his lines are composed of one to three words and this consistent employment of monometers, dimeters, and trimeters, hurries the poems and sometimes interferes with discerning their meaning.
Words to Live is an earnest effort, but the author’s facility with the language is not developed enough in this collection to attract poetry devotees.
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