Reviewed by Sheri Harper
Curses and Wishes
by Carl Adamshick
Louisiana State University Press
ISBN: 978-0-8071-3776-5, Paperback: 64 pages, April 22, 2011
One of the most notable features of the 2011 Walt Whitman Award of the Academy of American Poets collection Curses and Wishes by Carl Adamshick is the quiet authority of voice the poet offers in his verse. Regardless of topic, from war, oyster bars, junk yards, to fluency, the reader never finds a word out of place, over frilly phrases or rigid format. Instead, the poet offers clear language, with specificity of detail and style that meets the needs of the poem.
One poem, “The emptiness” offers the reader a good reason why war should be avoided by offering potent reasons to embrace life. The poem starts:
I didn’t want to give my body to war.
I saw news footage of a fly
in a dead man’s mouth. I saw a man
made to kneel and then told
In language he couldn’t
comprehend, to lie flat on his stomach.
but the poem doesn’t stop with the newscast experience. It invites us to share the grief of those unable to change events:
The emptiness of my mouth
began. I wanted to say I’d seen
the tree of night,
its crown holding the great stars,
the beginning recorded in the center
ring of its bore,
but said nothing.
I saw we were the ancient text
and instead of ending there, he continues on with the experience and doesn’t avoid returning to the experience of war witnessed and the poem is well able to touch one’s heart.
One of the more beautiful verses speaks to the power of words and offers homage to the poet’s mother, titled “Fluency”, I particularly love the lines:
That is why I fear the uses of language
that comes and undresses itself.
like an autumn tree. I see her suffering
because she trusted
The poem’s start with the ideals of religion and governments and society are made intangible compared to the concrete specifics of his mother and her faith and the symbols and experience she has witnessed and thereby offers just reasons for the poet’s fear.
So even more than the voice of the poet, these poems invite readers to walk awhile with the poet and explore his experience. An example comes from the poem “Even though”
May the dice have no eyes
and may you keep throwing them on the table’s
May you have night,
with its dark branches, every night.
Curses and Wishes is a very pleasing, peaceful collection of poems that the reader will enjoy experiencing, even if the experience shares pain, sadness, or joy.
About the reviewer: Sheri Fresonke Harper is a poet and writer. She’s been published in many small journals and is working on her second science fiction novel. See www.sfharper.com