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 Collin Kelley reviews More of Me Disappears by John Amen


published by Cross-Cultural Communications




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John Amen's More of Me Disappears straddles a fine line between surreal and concrete, using sex, politics, personal past and uncertain future, to create a compelling second collection of poetry.


"We are made of holy water and the feces of a god," Amen writes in the long opening poem "The Consummation," a bold introduction to a collection that gallops through seasons, emotions and cities. Even more so than in his first book, Christening the Dancer, Amen mines his own foibles, shortcomings and desires to take the confessional style of poetry into a new realm.


In "Verboten," he recalls a visit to Paris, visiting relatives with grandparents, who were both Holocaust survivors. Upon spying his great-aunt's numbered tattoo, he is silenced by his grandparents who say "some questions should not be asked." His recall of this moment and response are the glue that binds all of Amen's work:


            As life went on,

            I learned that most of the questions

            I wanted answers to fell into that category.

            Still, I asked them; and I'm still asking them.


Amen's dealings with love -- both lost, found, and destructive -- continue to inform his work. In "A Small Space," he admits to falling in love with things that hurt him. "If love is a horse, good luck saddling it," he writes. Later, in "Narcissism" he writes of his pursuit of women as that of junkie looking for his next fix.


            I took on a litany of candidates, women

            who begged me to save them and cursed

            the marrow in my bones.


Amen's parents haunt the second section of the collection, as does the specter of a New York both pre and post Sept. 11, 2001. His series of "New York Memory" poems are somber and elegiac in tone. In "New York Memory #3" he returns to the apartment of his long-dead father to watch as new tenants come and go: "The revolving door of humanity spins." In "Eulogy for My Mother," he calls his mother by her first name and forgives her for her carefree ways, and possible mental instability.


A failed marriage hangs over much of the proceedings, all finely and self-effacingly detailed. He and his wife decide to have a baby while shopping at a department store near St. Mark's Church in "New York Memory #14":


Nothing was ever enough. But I don't recall it

as a bad time, that November, that sad month,

kind of like each day was a bizarre vacation,

a slow parade of hours leading us toward

the hysteria of a workday, our usual lives.


A laundry list of America's ills is detailed in "Walking Unsure of Myself (Election Day, 2004)," with short, sharp lines that seem like fleeting images from channel surfing. These images merge with the narrator's own everyday distractions: "The war is just beginning. I need to buy new shoes." Debutantes on welfare, drowned babies, burning effigies on a ball field, "so much space, so little god," police tape around monkey bars all cascade down until the sucker punch of the closing line: "I placed my ballot in the dead monster's mouth."


By the end of More of Me Disappears, you'll feel as if you've momentarily left reality for that of John Amen. The sequence and rhythm of long poems, followed by short lyrical bursts, lull you into another dimension. It's a shadow world that is very much of the now. In the closing poem, "Before I Leave," Amen leaves us with these fairly chilling words: "May your armageddons be fruitful."


If it's almost at the end of the world as we know it, John Amen's poetry is a good guidebook for how to find our way back, and a caution against making the same mistakes.






- review by Collin Kelley 12/2005

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