Alibi V.24 No.4 • Jan 22-28, 2015 

Book Review

More Human Than Not

Of Small Children / And Other Poor Swimmers

Swimming with Elephants Publications
paperback
poetry
$12.95

There's a voice in Brian Hendrickson's poems. A clear, personified sound moving fluidly through the entrancing lyricism that makes up the bulk of his debut collection Of Small Children / And Other Poor Swimmers. The difficult thing about reading an entire book of poems is that some stand alone as true testaments to a writer's ability to dig deep inside their psyche and divulge the dark and dirty, but some merely scratch the surface. If that's true of most poetry books, then Hendrickson's rides that wavelength proudly. Some poems are good; some (such as “To Become the Cup”) could've been left out. But the good ones? They're damn fine pieces of artistry.

Hendrickson's work ranges from the visceral to the more indirect reaches of human existence. Whether he's painting clear, scenic landscapes populated by barred owls or ruminating on the reality of death, his writing never strays far from a relatable place. In “Oak Tree / Sky Crane / Altar,” he speaks of the disillusionment we all feel when we grow up and realize that things aren't what we thought they'd be. “When I was a teenager, I thought/ The tall buildings of big cities/ Were fat with excitement. I had/ No idea they were just banks.” Moments like this—the true, blunt statements—are where Hendrickson's humanity leaks through. Of course, he's not afraid to let an embedded realism reveal its tethered needles: “all over town there are/ thieves cracked out and crawling through the/ windows of our most delicious failures.”—he says in “O, My Brother.”

Hendrickson's work ranges from the visceral to the more indirect reaches of human existence. Whether he's painting clear, scenic landscapes populated by barred owls or ruminating on the reality of death, his writing never strays far from a relatable place.

Hendrickson's sense of place is richly illuminated within the 109 pages of this collection. As his voice echoes through bars, beaches and roads, his most exciting lines happen when they paint delicate scenarios, as in “Spring Fragments,” wherein he writes, “At night the many bars of Tallahassee/ Offer their petals again to the dark/ Streets shrouded in Spanish moss,/ And not one second-person pronoun/ Of mine is any longer among them, and I don't/ Know what else to say...” A sense of ambivalence—mankind's unknowable feelings—sputters through as the poems quickly unveil their premises.

That happens especially in “This Voice.” Hendrickson writes, “Thanks to Ronald Reagan, this voice has a permanent/ soft spot in its skull for those born to lose./ … This voice learned to shut up and throw the first punch,/ then run, run, run./ … This voice sounds just like its father.” Another thing to note about this book of poems is that it reveals an all-encompassing view of what it means to be human, in this place, at this moment. The good, the bad, everything we believe it to be. This may not always come through while reading the text. But when it does, it's fucking riveting.