It is much easier to read mediocre prose than mediocre poetry. It’s too easy to believe that writing poetry is simply a matter of connecting with raw emotions and that whatever “truths” arrive are, in and of themselves, enough. This is perhaps why poorly written poetry is so uncomfortable to read; it forgets that poetry is about writing in a heightened language, not just about what is being said. An excellent poem cannot be paraphrased; it cannot be translated into prose. Yet, when we come across a poet who masters the measure of language, it appears almost transparent, effortless. Reading through Dore Kiesselbach’s Salt Pier for the first time was like that for me.
Kiesselbach is not wrought with emotion. He is neither blatantly sad nor joyful, but curious and observational. Since he doesn’t explain how he feels, he is not telling us how to feel, and these poems allow us to experience them through the connections of our own experience and knowledge. The poems engage in difficult topics: abandonment, fear, love, death, family . . . the usual, but the poems don’t usually address them directly. We are not given any easy answers, just imagistic language to compare against the history of our own truths. We already have the same answers, anyway.
Salt Pier moves from loss to completion as it delineates a series of relationships through finely crafted details and metaphors of the imagination. Throughout, there is a ghost of meter and rhyme to discover. From “Dart”:
Because it needed me
to fly it curved. I held
once a hummingbird,
softer than the feathers
I pulled out of you.
It had thrown itself
against a window.
It hadn’t lacked the nerve.
The poems vary in their use of person as well. A significant number of poems are written in the second person, sometimes speaking to another subject, sometimes speaking to the speaker. By transforming our perspective, the voice of the speaker becomes multi-faceted and, also, somewhat more interesting, adding to the complexity of the reading.
Kiesselbach’s most remarkable use of poetic language comes in the form of metaphors. They consistently surprised me and furthered the potential for meaning. From “Green Zone”:
A man in the crowd
spoke loudly to no one,
his face a vandalized
with its lock.
He could have ended the association with an image of a beat-up bike, but instead added the lock, which keeps it grounded and held in place, like the man’s face is bound to him.
As much as I enjoyed this collection, I also recognize that it may not have enough depth for real staying power. On second and third readings, I did not discover many more lines or images that furthered my understanding of his verses. This does not mean it lacked substance; he merely gave it to us easily on the first read. I look forward to seeing his next collection and how this poet matures.