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Tulips Sans Chimneys

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Mr. Potter’s given us a bold adventurous book with plenty of sharp turns at high speed, with some gestures toward Neruda and Merwin but also “Sk8,” a gr8 skateboarding poem, and sonnets, and brave ventures into rhymed verse, poems for friends and relatives, “Stopping by Blogs on a Frosty Evening,” and poems of passionate love with angels looking down from above. Plus tulips and Elsie. —Garrison Keillor

I have enjoyed the company of Jonathan Potter’s poetry for years and rejoice at the arrival of this new collection with its unabashed delight, authentic intimacy, and emotionally convincing, often playful music. Potter is at turns a graceful, organic monologist and a wry, deft formalist. These are poems of generous mythmaking, self-deprecating humor, passion, and the glories of fatherhood. They inhabit a Seattle of historical icons and the poet’s own skateboarding youth, a London of “tidy grime” and love, and the derelict and divine streets and poetry community and waterfall of Spokane, this poet’s answer to Williams’ Paterson. By the time Potter wishes he could “become myself with vengeance / and take you with me,” he has done both. —Jonathan Johnson

In an era of poetry that plumbs humanity’s darker depths, it is a pleasant respite to read Jonathan Potter’s Tulips for Elsie, a collection that wears its pathos and its prosody lightly as it confronts life’s familiar concerns—love, sex, family life, and his beloved native place (Spokane, Washington)— with full-bodied affection and gentle irony. Many poems here are sonnets—not just Petrarchan or Shakespearean but also Onegin stanzas!—yet Potter makes rhyming in these conversationally-toned fourteeners look effortless. Particularly engaging are the portrait sonnets featuring poets and writers associated with Spokane (Alexie, Howell, Walter among them), the longer poems about the poet’s lively and accomplished daughters, and the poetic palimpsests replying to or parodying well-known classics. By the time we finish reading, we may feel ourselves, with the poet, to have “co-authored  . . . a beautiful book of longing.” —Carolyne Wright

Don’t the second two raise questions about the first one?

Let Me Fly

Read the first two words only

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Stuff Covered in Snow, Part VI: Unrealized

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Sk8

To hurl—on wheels and board—oneself upon
A curving plane that uses gravity
To bring a blending of geometry and bone

Is one way to describe the breaking dawn
Of simple unexpected sanity
That turns the wheels and board one’s self’s upon

When dropping in and tuning out the spawn
Of shallow crowded life’s cacophony
To bring a bending of geometry and bone

Pythagorean-like when now it hits the brain
Reflecting back from later history
To hurl the wheels and boards these thoughts are on,

To wonder at one’s youth and scattered train
Of visions climbing caves of memory,
To blink at blinding light’s geometry and bone,

To light the heavens up, undone, alone,
For one sweet moment’s flagrant mystery,
To hurl—on wheels and board—oneself upon
The burning blending of geometry and bone.

Portrait of the Poet as a Young Skate Punk

That’s me in the blue helmet, age 16 …