As a Bee by Simon Pettet (Talisman House, 2014)
REVIEWED BY GEORGE WALLACE
HARMING NEITHER HUE NOR SCENT
Adhering to his own dictum of
'maximum compassion, minimum syllables
,' Simon Pettet—while deeply affiliated with the multi-generational constellation of New York School poetics—goes far afield, and to unentrenched destinations, to find his firmament.
Deep in the fragmentary, quickly sketched sensibility, at the astonishing zen heart of the matter in this 32-page collection, is a fresh reminder for the reader to contemplate the divinity in the gestural.
In naming his latest collection, Pettet signals how we are to read" As A Bee. That's also the title of a found poem strategically positioned at the beginning of the book -- an incantatory reminder for the wisdom seeker or sage to do like the bees do; ie, collect the nectar, harming 'neither the hue or scent' in the things of this world.
"So let a sage move about a village...so in cities a Wise One fares.'
So fares the reader—moving through precise, focused moments with the poet, concentrated on gathering the nectar of the moment. And on doing no harm, but rather acting as 'mute witnesses...and respectful.'
This is poetry that travels far from the silver, soluble urban canyons of New York City. The old 'Bull House' tobacconist shop is festooned with 'pipe-cleaners, spittoons, a quid of the finest shag.' A newly avowed couple accurately notes 'Each portion/of perfect beauty..deftly remarked upon/and/not at all dismissed.' A wondering observer in a redwood forest looks up 'hundreds of feet/into the sky/into the canopy of branches
where other whisperers and other trees are growing.
Franco, in the spirit world...'would have flipped over email.' A raucous voice in 2 am Venice is called to question, 'while blissful below sleeps a pearl,/a one-year old child.'
Pettet's gift for the parenthetical is in full display: 'are not wolves/(look in their eyes)/brother animals?' he asked, in POEM ("coyote howls on the crossroads"). 'and should we not protect them? as we supposedly (but hardly!) protect ourselves.'
'Have faith,' he writes in Smoke Extinguished, The show is about to spiral.
And in a dazzlingly adroit display of spiraling turnaround, Pettet offers us cormorants and ospreys witnessing the childlike paddling of humans, with 'a conspiratorial wink.' ( Boat Ride (A Group of Six))
This is playful, almost coquettish stuff, in a good way— simultaneously shy and revealing, and delivered with such wry understatement and brevity as to be perfectly winning.
These are poems freshly sifted from the eclectic experience of man who has been there and back, newly minted in a tone less of hushed reverence than twinkling bemusement.
With what might think of as uncommon grace and understated presence for a denizen of Manhattan, Pettet articulates the ineffable with an ease and an unassuming regularity that can sneak up and take you by surprise. His poems are seemingly written in air, with a kind of stillness and reserve. He possesses a gift for understatement that infuses the reader with the sense of just how arresting the moment can really be, if caught in just the right light.
by Simon Pettet Talisman House, 2014 ISBN: 978-1584981138