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The Countries We Live In
by David Radavich
48 poems/ 80 pages
Main Street Rag Publishing Company
Reviewed by: Ed Bennett
Elizabeth Bishop once said: "Writing poetry is an unnatural act. It takes skill
to make it seem natural." By that measure, David Radavich's The Countries We
Live In is teeming with unnatural acts that are skillfully laid before us. As with
every good poet, the fundamentals are followed but the uniqueness of this book
lies in his ability to speak directly and clearly to a reader without the ornate
festoonery of overwrought imagery. This ability almost forces the reader to en-
joy these poems aloud and definitely more than once.
Mr. Radavich has a discerning eye to match his poetic voice. He is a keen observ-
er, objective and somewhat amused by the poem's subject and willing to speculate
on the true nature of his observation. In "Beachside Near Belfast, 1975" he begins
"Some stones are black
and some tan"
One expects a politicized poem, based on the depredations of British "Black and
Tan" troops in Ireland in the 1920s. The poem, in the next line, turns 180 degrees
from past repression to
"but the sun shines
like a proud horseman
so it's easy to forget
the barbed wire back in town...
(like us) who might
by rooted animosities.
No, the afternoon is generous
and loving as a tea service."
The narrator allows us to see past the massacres and rubber bullets into the soul of
a country. This 12-line section of the poem also celebrates Irish culture (the legend-
ary Celtic horsemanship) while pointing out that the rooted animosities of history
confuse the outsiders, whose perception merely sees the surface. In fact, the clench
of history is abandoned as Ireland is perceived not from an urban combat zone but
from the shores of the island bathed by sun and sea.
Most of the poems are short line poems with a distinctly American vocabulary some-
what reminiscent of William Carlos Williams' poetry. One can envision the poet
leaning - against a doorway telling a humorous story rather than declaiming it with
Homeric strophes. Yet the lightheartedness occasionally gives way to technical virtu-
osity, as seen in the poem "Parataxis". Parataxis is a poetic technique where two dis-
similar images are juxtaposed though not connected. The poem opens with the flash-
ing colors of white dogwood blossoms, bright red bicycles and a blue sky. This is
how the colors work
or what we can say
of bankers and politicians
who do not love life."
As with true parataxis, this conjunction of images joins them despite their dissimilarity,
opening the path for further discussion. Writing a poem about parataxis and then blatant-
ly labeling it as such is, once again, a testament to Mr. Radavich's skill as well as his dis-
arming way of presenting a contentious subject.
There are 48 poems in this book, each with the property of being able to be teased apart
for a deeper meaning. This is one of the marks of good poetry yet each of these poems has
a common core: the poets love for his subject, his surroundings and his art. Each poem,
even those concerning weightier topics like cancer survival, sweatshops or death are written
with the balance and respect of a good friend who can be depended on to be rational and
wise. For the aspiring poet this book is a handbook of poetic technique, though they are
so subtly done that they require some study. For the rest of us who value voice and balance,
this is a fine book and, no doubt, one that will be read often.