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Days Like These
by Robert Riche
71 poems/103 pages/$14.95
Plain View Press
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
Readers, let me enlighten you on a small part of the male psyche. (Please, no size jokes.) Women have noted rather strenuously that men do not need to “age gracefully” and are generally held to a different standard. A man will have “craggy good looks” while a woman has age lines. What generally goes unnoticed is that we men have a tendency to become pretty cranky as we age. On a good day we’re curmudgeonly but most of the time we’re just the old guy crabbing about the kids running across his lawn. There is no need for us to age gracefully, unfortunately, so we do not.
Robert Riche’s new release “Days Like These” sets him apart from this all to pervasive stereotype. It is the work of a mature poet who has maintained the discipline and skill of his craft, willing to take a moment to consider his surroundings. The subjects vary, from nature to other people to himself, each viewed with the practiced eye of a naturalist taking notes. His images are crisp and his observations cover all of the parts of his subject, even the disconcerting ones. In “Cut Roses” he describes how each of the flowers are taken by the gardner for their “sweetness” yet he ends this paean with:
“In the garden
a hole gapes
where they stood.”
This is not the romantic description of a flower or urn by Wordsworth. The narrator cannot leave the subject until he describes the effect of the rose harvest. Reality is not suspended for the sake of a lilting metaphor.
Mr. Riche’s ability to sum up his observations can be disconcerting, as good poetry frequently is, yet his use of this device is used to underline the true theme of his work and present a complete picture of what he speaks about. In “The Foreman” the narrator describes one of his co-workers, a Polish immigrant who worked with the seriousness of a Maitre d’. During a moment of dancing at a company picnic the crew and their families marveled at the other, more cheerful side of this man as he danced a polka. The poem ends:
“and it was then
that I saw
the tattered numbers on his arm.”
Mr. Riche’s understatement speaks far louder than the usual shrillness of a polemic. Each line is delivered in a matter-of-fact tone and the twist of the ending is left with the reader to find meaning. This is that rare collection of poetry that successfully walks the line between wordy explanations and inaccessibility. It is also refreshing to find a poet who respects his readers enough to invite them into his thoughts and feelings, sharing his observations and giving a chance to ponder the theme of the poem for themselves. He is neither didactic nor does he hide anything in a cocoon of technique. He is a conversationalist who will listen as well.
I was happy to see that he does, on rare occasion, fall into middle aged crankiness, though understandably so. No one enjoys a trip to the dentist, even poets seeking inspiration. The closing lines of “The Dentist” sums up his sour feelings with
“”You’re gonna look like Clark Gable”
he says, perhaps forgetting
Clark Gable is dead.”
One of the strongest poems in this book is “For Allen Ginsberg: 50 Years After”. It is a quiet soliloquy to Ginsberg opening with
“Allen, it’s been 50 years now, and so I can tell you,
I never liked Howl.
I saw you hopeless, beat
down by your own illusions ”
From that opening revelation, the narrator ties together his own life with Ginsberg’s
“But here’s the story, Allen, I’m no longer a Communist.
I lost my way in the light that failed
And that’s why I’m writing this. It’s a confession.
I’m no longer anything…
I have a flat screen television. You don’t know
what that is. I don’t either, except it costs more.”
Mr. Riche constructs his confession out of simple declaratives, relatively short lines entwined with longer phrases that give this somber poem a melodic undertone. The honesty is palpable and, despite the opening comments about not liking Ginsberg’s seminal work, one gradually comes to the conclusion that the five decades referenced in the title have drawn the narrator closer to this “hopeless, beat down” poet. He ends with the benediction:
“I could sit on a rock
on a clear night under a full moon,
I’d think of you, and what you said,
and I’d look up at the moon,
and you know what I’d do, Allen?-
“Days Like These” is a rare book of poems. These are no sighs over lost youth, no laments over opportunities missed. This collection of poems is the sober assessment of a poet for his present as well as his past. The tone of his poems is conversational and sincere, a rare juxtaposition in these days of raging commentary and half thought sound bites. Read this book at your leisure in a quiet place with a sweet beverage and lots of time. You’ll not read this book through at one sitting because of the memories and meditations it will draw from you. Robert Riche is one of those rare men that have grown graceful with the years and his poetry shows it.