Rise, Fall and Acceptance is Patrick Carrington’s first collection of poetry. For a first outing, this is an exceptional work. Its depth and workmanship suggest poetry born over a long period of time and many rounds of edits. This diligence is found not only in the written word, but in the meticulous care taken with line breaks and stanzas. Here is an example from “Brothers On the Crossed Hill”: “Do you forget who lies / under the wild grass, / disgracing with your lips / this hill his horses rode, / their hooves and his / flattening the green blanket, / that mighty rug / that tops him now?”
I asked his publisher M. Scott Douglas of Main Street Rag why he choose to publish this collection of poems. Here is what he told me, “I am often asked why Main Street Rag chooses a particular manuscript for publication. Time and again the deciding factor is the way the words come alive on the page. Rise, Fall and Acceptance by Patrick Carrington was one of these collections that caught my attention not just by its organization, its great use of words—particularly action verbs—but because the poems were alive with experience and involve the reader. Mr. Carrington gathered a collection of sometimes very personal poems in a way that avoids the maudlin and mushy and draws the reader into the experiences that inspired this collection.”
The tone of the poems in this collection is quite formal, and I wondered if Carrington had training as a writer, “I have advanced degrees in English Literature and Education. But for the most part, what I have learned about poetry has been self-guided and self-taught through enormous amounts of reading and research and a good deal of common sense. I do teach writing for a living and have taught at levels ranging from junior high to honors level high school seniors. I also tutor privately. I did this when I knew writing is what I both love most and what treats me best emotionally and spiritually.”
I was surprised to learn that while Carrington was not new to writing he was very new to poetry. He told me, “I wrote and submitted my first poem a bit over two years ago. Four years ago I began reading poetry, and simply fell in love with it. It became my daily leisure activity, and still is. I began devouring everything I could get my hands on. And one night, after reading a poem I fancied very much, a voice popped into my head. “I think I can do this,” it said. He went on to say, “There’s a finished novel gathering dust on my shelf. A first draft, completely unedited. If the mad dog of poetry ever stops nipping at my ankles, I might find time to repair it someday.”
No question but that Carrington is a strong writer, but I sometimes struggled not to get bogged down by his excessive use of metaphor and image. Granted many of these poems are image driven and set upon a delicate narrative framework, but I wanted some of the poems to be trimmed back. I wanted him to weave some straightforward language into these pieces as a way to balance their complexity. Here is an example from “Balancing Pens In Belfast”: “By day the seams and shadows / of their ruin unstitch and steal / my air and crush my bones / their powered hair and homes /that puff and fall in winter’s winds / and hand, the swinging noose / of England choking rough / and tumble songs they sang / in tall and long defiance, / defense of son and land.” And again in his poem “Strawberry Moon”: “Strawberry moon spreads its will / like jam, sweet with sugars / of song and sunfade, and I see / the back of sadness break. // Mockingbirds scoop the music / of a stream and fly it to the trees, / share the throat of that new sisters // as they sing. Rich with birds, // the willows whistle and dance, / waving their fronds like the wings / of their siblings. The tender joinings // of evening call me, / water to wing to willow.” His language is beautiful, but at times slips over the too sweet for me line.
Since his poetry is quite structured I wondered who had influenced and shaped his poetic voice and the choices he makes when constructing a poem. He told me, “There is such a large number of poets/writers, past and present, whom I love to read. Too many to list, but here are a few: T. S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. Hemingway and Steinbeck, whose prose reads to me like poetry without line breaks. And so many of today’s poets knock me out: Tony Hoagland and Bob Hicok. Kim Addonizio. Mary Oliver. Subconsciously, I’m sure they have all influenced me to some degree. They’re boiling in my head, like a bouillabaisse. My own writing cannot help but be imitative of that stew, to some degree.”
As noted, my reader’s eyes were sometimes distracted, specifically by three aspects of Carrington’s writing. I asked him about these.
I found too much alliteration. Here are a few examples: “Scrubbing MacGillycuddy’s Reeks”: “footprints / ground-frozen fossils that flinch.” Also in, “Inking The Road Again”: “while his neglected wife stripped / skin from a biker, / sucking highways out” He told me this, ” I do think alliteration can be overdone, like anything else. Whatever alliteration I use in my poems seems to happen by itself. I don’t consciously think about it when I write, nor about meter or sound. But sometimes I feel a beat, a rhythm in my head. I think most poets probably feel that, each different from the other, their own personal jazz. And there is no denying that poetry has a long tradition with sound.”
I also began to find line breaks and stanzas jumping out at me rather then melding effortless into the whole. There are very few small press poets I can name who could match Carrington’s precise use of this device. More often then not I see this convention used by poets who have been academically trained. Even the back cover blurb by Harvey Stanbrough, Editor of Raintown Review, notes line break and use of stanzas. Here is what Stanbrough says, “It (Rise, Fall and Acceptance) should be used to teach aspiring poets the importance of word choice, the line break, and the use of stanzas.” Here is want Carrington told me about this aspect of his work, “Unlike alliteration, line breaks are something I take great care with. Enjambment (the continuation of meaning, without pause or break, from one line of poetry to the next) is one of the devices I use to try to make my writing different, and fresh. I have developed some thoughts that guide me. I am convinced that the most important word in a line of poetry is the last one. I think that is where a reader’s eyes settle for a split second longer than anywhere else. I try to take advantage of that phenomenon when I line break, using the end placement to magnify a word, give it importance, or to create multiple meanings, or ambiguity. Unless I have a good reason to do otherwise, I like to break my lines after nouns or verbs, before prepositional phrases (to give the modified word both its own place and a second meaning when later joined by the phrase following it). I have started to break after adjectives also, if I want to “punch” that adjective. For me, breaking lines after unimportant words, articles, prepositions, conjunctions, usually feels wrong. The same can be said with stanzas. It is not only to add lightness to the page, but to give a group of words and ideas their own identity, besides being a part of the whole. It’s a complicated question to answer, since many of my decisions are intuitive.”
And finally an over abundance of language and metaphor (yes, I know we’re talking about poetry here) like in, “Balancing Pens In Belfast”: “By the say the seams and shadows / of their ruin unstitch and steal / my air and crush my bones, / their powdered hair and homes / that puff and fall in winter’s winds / and hands, the swinging noose / of England choking rough / tumble songs they sang / in tall and long defiance, / defense of son and land.” Certainly there is music in his words, and his love of language is noted by the acclaimed poet, Bob Hicok in a second back cover blurb where he says, “I can feel this poet’s love of language and his deep sense of truth in every poem.” While with Hicok, I sometimes stumbled over the abundance of metaphors. Here is want Carrington told me about these choices, “That poem was written specifically targeting a web journal I like very much, Alan Heinrich’s Carnelian. He publishes a lot of rhyme and sonnets. I prefer Popeye to Petrarch, but I thought I’d give internal rhyme a try and submit to him. I’m surprised to see you quote that particular poem, since it is not at all representative of the collection as a whole. It’s the only piece where sound and form are as important as content. As far as the formality of language, that seems to touch the on-going debate as to the value of academic vs. small press poetry. Writing is a 2-person enterprise, author and reader. I do think a poet who gets too far away from the life and experiences of that natural partner is doing both the reader and himself a disservice. Too large a gap may be one of the things that has moved poetry books into the dusty corners of bookstores, and turned poetry into a sub-culture where the only people who read one’s poetry are other poets. But I think there is and should be a natural and wider space between writer and reader in poetry than prose. I find the main difference between poetry and prose to be the degree of the creative process that the writer gives to the reader, prose being a heavily writer-based undertaking, poetry a more even split. Poetry that simply reads like prose with line breaks seems to indeed be prose, to me.”
Carrington’s quick rise as a poet made me curious about whether he felt he had locked in on his poetic voice. Here is what he had to say, “My poetic tastes are wide and cover both ends of the poetic spectrum. I very much like (most of) the poetry I read in Poetry Magazine and academic journals of that ilk, and I also very much like (most of) the poetry I read in the small press. I suppose that fact has created in me a double voice when I write, as I search for the one voice that will eventually become me. I love metaphor, as well as ambiguity and a certain amount of pointed obscurity. When I write from the academic half of my poetic schizophrenia, that personality comes out. I also love the ‘plain speak’ I read in so many small press poets, and when that side of me feels dominant, it’s the way I too speak. My poems have found acceptance in both academic and small press journals, and it is probably for that very reason – that I love and write in two distinct voices. This book reflects that, I think. Both voices are there, the abstract and concrete, the stretch of language and the down-home and real. And I think if I were to totally ignore one side or the other right now, so early in my writing life, I would not be true to myself. Both voices are part of me now. Whether and when one of the two takes over and becomes louder in my ears, I have no idea. Right now I answer both calls, and favor neither.”
Despite my problems with this book, there are still many exceptional poems. I find it remarkable that a writer wakes up to poetry and two years later, has over 100 publication credits, a pushcart nomination, is the poetry editor of Jennifer VanBuren’s very fine e-zine called, Mannequin Envy and most recently won the Codhill Press Chapbook Award. Isn’t that amazing – has ever a prose writer crossed the great divide to poetry as quickly? Carrington has a bright future both within the non-academic small press, as well as the better funded academic world. He possesses enormous heart and emotional depth, but (as a reader) I sometimes could not find my way through his imagery to the purity of his experience. I would ask that as he elevates his game he remember to always keep one foot firmly planted on the everyday.
To find additional samples of Patrick Carrington’s work please follow these links:
* Softblow: http://www.softblow.com/carrington.html
* Kennesaw Review: http://www.kennesawreview.org/OLD_SITE/summer2006/poetry_summer_2006.htm
* Rock Salt Plum Review: http://www.rocksaltplum.com/RSPSpring2006/PatrickCarrington.html
* The New Hampshire Review: http://www.newhampshirereview.com/carrington.htm
About the author:
Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and sixty print and electronic publications. He has received four Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing, and most recently read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org) and Pass Port Journal. He is on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most recently he has been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/.