Book Review by Candice Louisa Daquin
Title: The Forever Abode
Author: Dustin Pickering
Publisher: Transcendent Zero Press
I’d not read a lot of Dustin Pickering before reading a draft copy of The Forever Abode. Pickering had mentioned this was a collection of poetry about a long-term relationship and thus, I found the idea intriguing. Poetry and love going so well together.
The first thing you notice reading Pickering is, he’s not a modern poet. His writing style and the emotional emphasis behind it, is very much inspired by, and in the genre of poetry from the 17th and 18th century poets.
For many this may be a little too classical, but I found it refreshing and ironically, original, because of its homage to the poetic form of old. What better genre in which to accomplish this than poetry about love or love in poetry?
Pickering is a huge romantic, that’s clear from the first few lines. Another thing in his favour. When men are romantic, I think they excel at it. It becomes their life blood and bleeds into their words effortlessly. Who better to be romantic about than a woman? She is the object of desire, whether we with our modern principles accept this or not.
The style is distinct. Pickering doesn’t title all his poetry. He has three sections. In 1. Baby, the first poem speaks of:
“because I honor you because love isn’t cheap— / my heart sequestered by phantom desires / and touch what soul?”
I love the use of his question(ing) in the lines, this reminds me of William Blake so much and is very poignant, working so well with the idea of asking (the desired one) whilst at the same time beseeching them.
“when darkness preens our bodies / flight like a whistle birds of stone we cannot eat / I lay quietly in your light.”
If you say this poem out loud, you can hear the skill with which it was wrought. There is a baseline melody and then an upper cadence, rhythmic throughout and the ‘voice’ is extremely predominant, almost begging you to usher it into existence. This accomplishes a sense of: the poet himself, the object of his desire, his emotions. In many ways this is a classical recipe when writing love poems and you either love them or hate them. I fall into the former category.
Beautiful wordplay also dominates almost effortlessly. One such example: the use of “phantom desires” saying so much in two words. And the ending – “I lay quietly in your light” such a brief ending, so perfectly crafted with the flow of words, and overall feeling of gentle love and adoration. The tenderness he is able to evoke using his mastery of language is evident from the first line.
Although it’s harder to navigate the book due to not having titles, I quite like the idea of titleless poems and a reliance instead on the meaning, the emotion, the swell so to speak. In the second poem of 1. Baby, the lines: “by design I am fatal/ horse of sleep / carrying you toward me / where dreams eviscerate the mind” stood out as being stocked with metaphor and glorious imagery. Sometimes when you write obliquely in some ways and at the same time, say so much through your use of image, you set a stage far more vividly than by deliberate illustration. Suffice to say, such lines appear classic in their magnificent deliberation, how Pickering is able to shift our reading by the choice of which line they appear on, is surely the poet at his finest.
Poem 3 in the same series states: “you inhabit this tender world/ with a majesty no one recognizes/ but me.” By using “tender” before world Pickering deliberately and artfully softens the tone. Again using “majesty” he reveres his subject without needing to say more, and so, in three lines, so much is given, and little is lost. Another poetic device few possess, for we are often tempted to spell out what can be self-evident if we know our craft well enough.
As I read on, I find lines like: “the efficacy of dawn / like hammers clutched to the skin—” . These are equal to lines you would recall from taking a poetry course, that’s how tight and well-woven they are, and remain long after reading. Few authors have the ability to bring two lines alive with such dexterity and it is to Pickering’s credit that he is able to do this throughout this collection again and again.
Then suddenly there is a titled poem – “We Are Descending Together (After Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2)” and from this, I learn, how Pickering is able to be the poet I find. He takes a snapshot of something beautiful and speaks on it. As he does here, as he does throughout, and it works with such a crescendo of evocative naturalness, you feel he’s the creator and the subject:
“I admit to my failure at lovemaking. / I don’t make love; I destroy it.”
These lines are shattering. Their purity is staggering and I am reverent in my appreciation of Pickering’s high feeling like I have never been before.
I become aware that maybe I have mis-stepped, that this format is actually more deliberate than I even realised. I think of Duchamp’s staircase and then see the way these poems are arranged, with title or section title it matters not, these are meant to be read as one would fall down or climb up a staircase. You can hear it in the arrangement, as if Pickering were a composer writing music. That is exactly how this collection reads and I have never read a book of poetry that did this, not even Rossetti’s Goblin Market.
Within this, lines stand out like stars: “in empty fear there is an impulse to love—”. A mature and eerie understanding of human beings, emotions, desire, compulsion: “bolt the doors, rinse your wings: / every fear is justified. / nightingale slit throat, stolen honey.” It is a veritable glut of homage to every poet from Keats, the Brontë’s, through to Sappho, but done so naturally that it is in no way pretentious or seeking acclaim on the back of another. No, this is informed writing at its best.
Whether you are fan of poetry en masse or classical poetry, you will sink into lines like: “how do worms canker the flower? / envy’s sweet bud purses its lips in song.” I expect at times you may find this removed from the modern world and that will be a delight, because poetry isn’t of this world and a real poet will not conjure our world but a mirror of it, and reflect it back. Pickering has accomplished this through his breadth of knowledge about the world of literature and his own heart, that lives among those airy lines.
In the second section, ‘II Adult.’, Pickering shows his virtuoso as a philosopher of poetry with lines like; “What is known is not what we are certain of” and “heaven is anonymous and there are raging flags / above us”. And “nothing is senseless. Only the lack of sense.” (‘Intuition and Destiny’). Lines like those make me envy the quiet mind Pickering possesses, how he intuitively gleans beneath surfaces and remains in his imagination in ways that bring redolent colour and depth to his language.
The irony of when Pickering states: “you will be born forever into my tired stanzas.” Is that nothing could be further from the truth. These stanzas are anything but tired, they are fresh with intensity and passion and for those who love poetry, they are a welcome boon from the lackluster world beyond. If you find yourself envying his muse, then you know his work as a true romantic poet is accomplished.
Section Three is called ‘Walking Stick’ and symbolically I felt this line spoke of its meaning: “if I was perfect your stars would engage me.” This is the last part of the journey, where love slips through his hands, as beautifully as tragedy can be:
“if a monster I am, let me galvanize the pretty flux of death. / rapid sleep, dream in agency, I will not forgive.”
As an ardent fan of tragic love as well, I found Pickering’s handling of this delicate grief remarkable. It is far, far too easy as a writer to slip into maudlin self-pity and to retain that flourish of poetry whilst writing such despair is extremely challenging. Pickering succeeds in making tragedy beautiful and this is when you know, yes, he’s got that bittersweet magic in his soul:
“if prayer and fortune are no better than chance, / sublime randomness rules the punch— / we dig in, we live, the banquet of folly.”
It sounds pretentious of me to say this, but I have to because it’s what I thought reading The Forever Abode. Dustin Pickering’s writing reminds me of Shakespeare in his dexterous handling of tragedy especially and John Keats or Gabriel Garcia Marquez, in his wild submergence into love. With lines like:
“I will not forget my love, for she is silver / to gestalt eyes.”
What else can come to mind but those greats, who know how to pick silver from the darkness and make it see? Equally, as a writer of poetry I have learned so much about the importance of line breaks, something so seemingly obvious and yet, Pickering could give seminars on it in his sleep.
Two final points necessary to make mention of. Firstly, that Pickering may use old-world language in such a way we have seen and grown bored of before, but he does it with intelligence. He doesn’t just borrow the words; he inhabits and understands them. Many times, I read words like ‘o-er’ and know the author doesn’t really understand more than the obvious meaning behind them, and not how to employ the rhythm and romance of those old words into song. Pickering is dexterous in his awareness of these words, both then and now, and as such they are not just symbols, he is bringing the past into the future.
Lastly, Pickering has wrought a beautiful creation with The Forever Abode. He has reminded me why I was drawn to poetry way back when I first read it. He has tapped me on the shoulder and let me know it’s okay to be a hopeless romantic. He has let it be okay to love language and wordplay without needing a modern twist. For this I owe him a debt of gratitude. Reading The Forever Abode has been an awakening into my own love affair with poetry and how no matter what, it endures within us, without us and throughout us, in its ability to make us feel … everything.
“Gold chalices are floating in an array of fleecy torpor: / wind puts the candle to its test. Failure is only a game./ It doesn’t matter how or when— / love will sink into you like a raw fruit / seeded by memory. / The thought of you reconciles me to death.”
Candice Louisa Daquin is a Sephardi immigrant from France who lives in the American Southwest. Formerly in publishing, Daquin is now a Psychotherapist and Editor, having worked in Europe, Canada and the USA. Daquins own work is also published widely, she has written five books of poetry, the last published by Finishing Line Press called Pinch the Lock. Her website is www thefeatheredsleep.com