Peter Carlaftes’ latest book of poetry—i fold with the hand I was dealt—is a trickster’s romp through love, religion, death and suburban rec rooms. Carlaftes often uses structure as an anti-device—the skeletal six-part structure of the book is “flung down and danced upon” (as Mark Twain noted) by his playful prosody. The poems either bloom into a unexpected synthesis—or snort with a rude punch line. This systole/diastole of structure and non-structure pushes the book into daring prosody—and also provides some savage humor.
Carlaftes’ work creates a generational, calmly amorphous biography for you 60s kids. Some of the poems are either autobiographical or a cunning simulacrum. But no matter if the bio material is auto or not; it’s all here—the bizarre suburbia, the darned love, the American upheaval personified in the dashed and broken folks one meets in any doomed city. Carlaftes encounters with the Catholic Church and teen hitch-hiking mirror my own to an, ahem, disturbing degree. The joyous blasphemy of the poem calendar christ is worth the cost of the book alone:
that sweet dish
not to mention
Carlaftes is influenced by—but not slavish to—such major poets as e.e. cummings or Ezra Pound. He’s also at home using a snarling proto-Bukowski persona when it suits him, but his work is much more whimsical and thoughtful than that drunk L.A. beast. Working through the modernist urge to encapsulate experience in short, dazzling thrusts, Carlaftes adds a willingness to both use the conversational when needed and damn the explication when life demands its own complexity mirrored back.
Carlaftes brandishes multiple voices and styles to rake us over his poetic coals. In the Pedigreed Progeny section, Carlaftes’ Pandarin Orange uses a gleefully-warped faux voice:
next stop on list
find Lotus – whom
learn tighter grip
make fat lip soon
But the main—and most satisfying—aspect of this book is its raw emotion. Without going either maudlin or shrill (you try balancing between those two sputtering cardiac poles), Carlaftes serves up an honest self examination of his mistakes and amours. Few writes can do that nowadays—and even fewer poets. Get this book, grab a bourbon and settle into Carlaftes’ carnival mind.