Palm Trees by Nick Twemlow
Nick Twemlow, senior editor of The Iowa Review, co-editor of contemporary poetry publisher Canarium Books, and acclaimed short filmmaker, has recently published his first poetry collection, Palm Trees. I was excited when this slim book arrived in my mailbox. It is published by Chicago-based Green Lantern Press and designed by the Chicago-based graphic design firm Sonnenzimmer -- and quite frankly, it is beautiful. Large cream-colored pages, elegant typesetting, I looked forward to the quiet afternoon when I could sit down and reward my eyes, and my mind, with these poems. And that day came under snowy conditions (no palm trees in sight here), perfect for curling up to some poetry. Palm Trees contains just under fifty poems, twenty-one of which are sandwiched in the middle of the book and titled as consecutive "Palm Trees" poems, "Palm Trees / 1," "Palm Trees / 2," and so on. I was anxious to get to the "Palm Trees" poems, as they surely hold some sort of significance based on the title of the collection, but I conservatively chose to read the poems in order.
I immediately noticed that Twemlow writes his poems in a continuous stream of consciousness. And I mean the most random of random thoughts and transitions. Perhaps dreamlike, maybe drug-induced; I don't really know, and it doesn't even matter. What matters the most is that I really like Twemlow's style, no hiding behind carefully chosen prose for this man -- his poems are completely exposed. Twemlow writes of Chicago, Kansas, karate, confetti, wanting to keep someone locked up behind a Richter (as in, Gerhard), and he writes of sterile offices.
The office poems are fantastically layered between very unofficey, often crass words. Those are my favorites, the office poems, mainly because even though I've never met the man, I just cannot picture Twemlow sitting in a cubicle. There's a poem called "The Hum" -- can't you just see the fluorescent lighting and that one stubborn segment that won't stop flickering? Back to the poem. Twemlow writes, "...I give all of me all the time, / but cannot manage to stop. Please don't mistake my office persona for the real / thing, except I spend the good parts of myself at work, so what is the not-office / persona, who is that? ..." Many creative people who have, at some point in their lives, found themselves confined to a cubicle in an office job, could relate to this poem. It is written, as a large portion of them are, in a big block of writing, line breaks dictated by the right margin, rather than by the poet, only adding to the running-in of thoughts, stream of consciousness style.
The thoughts are all likely Twemlow's own thoughts. Almost all of the poems in Palm Trees are written in the first person. Twemlow, also unconventionally, occasionally includes his own name in poems, when he is being addressed by someone, and also on occasion, when referring to himself. Writers don't do this frequently, but maybe they should. By doing this, Twemlow is bringing himself into his work, in a very noticeable way. One of the poems that he does this in is the final "Palm Trees" poem, "Palm Trees / 21." In it, Twenlow writes, "...When we got to the / park, I suggested we walk backwards, retrace our path exactly. I had / missed something, though unsure of myself, and asked Ben if he / felt the same. I never feel the same, he said. The sidewalk unspools / under each heavy step. Twemlow, he added, your sickness is your / lack of sickness; this puzzles me..." I know that he is likely writing from his own life. It would not have the same effect if he had put a fake name, or just left a name out altogether.
There are, as one might hope, twenty "Palm Trees" poems that come before "Palm Trees / 21," and like "The Hum," they are all written in uninterrupted chunks of prose with no short line breaks. A few of the "Palm Trees" poems stood out from the others. One of those is "Palm Trees / 3." This poem is about Kansas, and he doesn't seem particularly fond of the place, and this poem is no exception. It ends "...The last thing I remember before leaving Kansas / was how easy I knew it would be to forget those things, and that all I / really wanted was to not die there." Almost all of his poems, like this one, are conversationally real. Twemlow writes as if he could be sitting across the table from the reader, describing out loud a time in his life. His writing is so casual, approachable -- even if the reader's life experiences don't have much in common with his experiences. Another poem, "Palm Trees / 13," begins, "My anger is a clock pulling yesterday into it. When I read about / amputee children in Darfur, I quietly click through to the iPhone / demo..." This distracted self-absorption makes me smile, probably because I too am guilty of it and I feel guilty about that, guilty about my own, sometimes, myopic worldview. An irony-induced smile is likely the response that Twemlow is after.
In Palm Trees, Twemlow openly writes about his feelings, but these feelings are not the kind of sentiments one conjures up when envisioning a stereotypical poet. Twemlow's honesty is what makes his poetry, and in turn himself, seem so accessible. The poems in Palm Trees are delightfully smart and daring, different -- in a way, much like an actual palm tree. Twemlow's poems are a lot of gutsy tough guy mixed in with observationally sensitive poet, and a little bit of pompous. There is a running around kind of energy to this collection, Twemlow's energy. It's an energy that is addictive enough, contagious enough, to make a reader want to keep running right alongside.
Palm Trees by Nick Twemlow
Green Lantern Press