January 2004

Laura Felch

poetry

Luster by Don Bogen

By titling this book Luster, Don Bogen suggests his intention to illuminate the common. As a whole, the collection of poems reaches this goal. “Metro” gives a clear crisp description of the well-known French trains –- “this lit room speeding and slowing in the dark” -- and brings the reader with the speaker “through tunnels, on walkways, up and down the stairs” and shows what it is like to be “part of it all and not set apart." Unfortunately, some poems eliminate the speaker and try too hard to create a universal significance. The result feels like an attempt to superimpose meaning rather than experience it.

Luster feels like a hesitation, a cleansing breath, a deeper examination of objects and feelings normally taken for granted. The poem “Musee” captures that feeling of frozen time as the speaker pauses among the “perfected arrangement” of the café and longs for “the awkwardness of talk." It is no more than an instant, but Bogen captures it precisely, neither missing the moment nor giving it more significance than it deserves.

In “The Machines,” Bogen compares systematic actions of machines and the patterns of daily life with images of single moments -- waiting in line to see Santa Claus, reading a book to his son, driving in California –- and specific machines -– pacemakers, trains, clocks. He is trying to show an intangible idea, an association between what physical things we create and what we create in our lives. The speaker stops to admire the pieces of our world -– “Look, we have made this” –- but warns us of this illusion of control. Do the machines and the patterns of life rule us or do we rule them? By supporting his ideas with precise details, Bogen makes the intangible concepts tangible and he shows them why he feels as he does and why these common things “gleam with the variegated luster.”

The part of the collection that fall short of expectations attempts to describe things on the Socratic level of ideas without specific examples. “Thoroughbreds,” the opening poem, portrays racehorses in such a generic way that it lacks depth and realism. One cannot help but question the overly broad declarations such as this visual description of a horse’s manner: “Nothing in nature reflects their taut poise.” Is the poem requesting the reader to think of everything in nature and use the process of elimination to picture the racehorse’s taut poise? With this amount of thought, readers could have written the poem themselves. “Bullhorn” suffers from similar weaknesses as tries to cram the characteristics of all bullhorns into a 54 line poem. The result is more of a description of what a bullhorn is not, rather than what it is: “Not a bull’s sloppy bellow/not a horn either.”

By attempting to be all-inclusive, Don Bogen muffles his own unique voice by oversimplifying a vast concepts in short poems. But when he simply describes exactly what he perceives and what that means to the speaker, he reveals parts of life that have been far too long overlooked.

Luster by Don Bogen
Wesleyan University Press
ISBN: 0819566500
88 pages