Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: Seth Brady Tucker's Mormon Boy

Mormon Boy
Seth Brady Tucker
66 pp., Elixir Press
ISBN: 978-1-932418-43-9

When I purchased Seth Tucker’s Mormon Boy, it was for a few obvious reasons.  I am Mormon, or used to be depending on who’s telling the stories, and I saw this title under a new releases list.  I was correct in that nobody names their poetry book thus unless he or she happens to have, or have had some connection to the Mormon community.  Seth has that connection, but when I found out he was a veteran of the First Gulf War, I was taken aback.  To have found a poet with similar connections to both Mormonism and the Army was like finding a long lost brother.  And while I identify with the poetry on those levels, I have no doubt any reader could just as easily find common ground on which to relate to this book.

Seth Tucker’s writing is expansive.  I do not merely means he writes about a lot of different subjects and covers a lot of ground, I am also talking about the physical world which his poems inhabit.  The book itself is larger than the typical poetry book because his lines are at times quite long, and receive the treatment they deserve by way of a larger presentation.  It is in these long lines where the reader begins to explore the expectations of Seth Tucker as author.  Here reside the complete thoughts of line, whole statements which refuse to be trimmed or wrangled into a false format simply for the sake of conformity.

In section one of Mormon Boy, Tucker takes on his experiences in the army and in the First Gulf War.  In a fine contrast from the poetry of Brian Turner, Seth has allowed time to permeate his memory and descriptions of his experiences.  The edges are softer than Turner’s war poetry, but in that softening come added wisdom and the wider net life after combat provides.  Neither one is superior in my experience, simply different.  Here in Mormon Boy, the reader will find more avenues by which to enter into the heart of the matter, and perhaps learn with a gentler touch.  This isn’t to say Seth’s poems about war have no impact.  Take these opening lines of the first poem of the book:

The Road to Baghdad

Is less a road than a floral
collection of spongy and soft
bodies, a gathering of the myriad

colors of nations—burnt umber,
puce, kiln red, olive drab, hot
steel.  It is a road that stretches

eternally into the ochre mocha
of horizon.  The road
to Baghdad has its own atmosphere

The reader must take on quite a lot in this first poem.  In that way, it mimic’s the soldier’s experience, being forced to take in a massive amount of information in an instant, making split-second decisions.  In those first three lines, there are several major decisions being made about content, image, line, and sound which Tucker commands so well as to make his choices seem casual.  Upon closer reading, it slowly becomes evident something more immense, more deliberate is taking place.

This deliberate series of choices comes through again in the long poem, “The Cold Logic of Farm Animals,” where Tucker creates a poem which defies homogeny.  Each new section takes on a different form, a different cosmetic appearance.  The stories are varied and dissimilar, but always keep the reader in rapt attention.  The section ends with a long prose poem which delivers the impact one almost shamefully wants when reading about war.

Section two turns lyrical, and we get to read about a great many different things.  That my favorite poem from this section is, “How to Look West From Mount Pleasant, Utah,” should not be a surprise to anyone.  There is something deeply elegiac in this poem which makes me think of my home town, which is not far from Mount Pleasant, Utah.  Of course, the poem is less a tutorial than it is an apostrophe, and hopefully (at least I hope) the poem is a way of talking to a much larger world. 

When I read the title poem, both of the third section and of the book,“Mormon Boy,” I am immediately mindful of the poet William Kloefkorn.  Not since Kloefkorn’s creation, Ludi jr., have I see a portrait of a young boy done so well.  The poem is masterful in its ability to draw the reader into the microcosm of a small boy’s world, both amazing and frightening.  I must here admit I identify with this poem on a deeply personal level.  On the surface, the poem is about a small boy on a paper route in winter, trudging through the snow, the duality of youthful indiscretion and knowing right from wrong.  But here, as everywhere else in this book, the poem is really a deeper discussion.  In the poems I can of course see the Mormon culture revealed, demanding hard work and commitment from even the youngest of children to a belief system they can hardly comprehend.   I see what will become the transition from this Mormon boy at age six, into something wholly different as he becomes an adult.  I begin to route for the little boy, and hope he makes it out intact.

In the final section of the book, Seth Tucker is triumphant.  The poems on this side of the book present a man who had survived to adulthood, in spite of the war he fought, and his previous fears that he has been fooling those around him.  There is elegy here, but rather than elegy setting the tone of this section with bright, silver cloud moments, it is the opposite.  There is a life to celebrate here, with the gentle reminder of occasional sadness.  We read about Tucker’s wife, Olivia, his passion for her, and we don’t get the feeling he is simply writing a poem for his wife.  The poems in this section reveal a sensual energy.  They are alive, knowing, and reveal how deliberate the orchestration of this book has been.   

These poems on the whole, present a biography of sorts.  I am reminded of Quentin Tarantino discussing how he orders the storyline in a film.  He says he doesn’t believe in flashbacks, that his ordering is his attempt to tell the story in the most interesting way possible.  Seth Tucker has done that here.  Beginning with the First Gulf War, Tucker is telling us he has essentially had three lives.  There is his life before the war, his life in the war, and then his life after the war.  The structure is easy to follow throughout the first three sections, but as with the format choices Tucker makes with many of his poems, the fourth section is a delightful wild card, which we must readjust our expectations.  The book works in and for all three of his lives as biography, place, time, and as a document of meaningful and visceral experience.  Seth Tucker has indeed contributed significantly to several themes and genres of writing with this single volume of poetry. 

Tucker lets the reader in on some of the most intimate aspects of his life and gives record as to how the world has shaped his growth. Every poem is a lesson which sparks insight into these contemporary times. While this book is an individual record, there is no doubt in my mind you will find a place to connect.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the review! This book is on my to read list.