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by Alex Boyd

Poems for the Twenty-First Century by Deborah Eibel makes note of the switch from one century to another right at the beginning of the book in a couple of poems, including "The Twenty First Century".

The Twenty-first Century
Has just begun.
Every one wants to control it.
Any one can.

The Twenty-first Century
Has just begun.
Every one thinks
He has invented it.

What is striking in these lines is the lack of emotional tone. Whatever Eibel feels about the new century is almost completely absent, and instead we are given sweeping statements that are a little baffling, like the idea that "any one" can control the century. Poems comprised of statements without explanation or emotional tone (or sometimes even a context) is, I'm afraid, the most consistent thing in this book. In "Chatting", we are told "every one" in a big city likes to chat, and they are all "showing off." In "Trying Out all the Pianos", we are told "The children of / Anonymous virtuosi / Did not follow / In their fathers' footsteps." And here is the poem "Not Ready":

The world
Is not ready
For you
First you should
Take a nap.

The reader is left to wonder who she is talking aboutłor talking tołand why. Images such as clowns, the gold rush, narrow streets (or streets too narrow for parades) museums and heritage houses or children appear over and over. But despite the frequency of these images, I still don't know what they mean to Eibel, because the poems are often so short and maddeningly vague. Eibel is fond of introducing partial ideas and then ending the poem. But what she might think is mysteriously brief is often just incoherent. No less than four poems, for example, end with the words "Religious education is never wasted." For a little variety later on we get the final lines "Religious education is the best education." And the fifth poem has those very words as a title.

I can't understand why Eibel thinks that dozens of small, undernourished poems on a topic are better then fewer, possibly better ones. I can only conclude she must feel any stray thought is worthy of a poem, and that after those thoughts are jotted down there is no point to crafting them into those "sonic marvels" the reader is promised in the back of the book. Her longer poems have some impact, mostly because she takes the time to illustrate the situation to the reader. In "The Simple Last Hours of an Obscure Saint", the arm of the old man is described as "an oar of withered flesh." There is nothing better than a striking, charged image to draw the reader into the perspective of the poet, but those moments are, in this collection, few and far between. ņ

Alex Boyd is a Toronto writer of poems, essays and fiction.


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