Calvin White, 158 pgs, Now or Never Publishing, nonpublishing.com, $17.95
Calvin White has put together a sizable collection of what he calls “political poems,” though they could just as easily be called “activist poems.” This is not an issue in and of itself, but he takes care to address topics ranging from global warming to animal abuse, Nagasaki to self-harm, American politics to Canadian Indigenous issues. White fires a scattershot into the social-justice blogosphere, pulls back every topic he can, and comes across disingenuous as a result.
With such a range of unrelated topics, and such heat behind every issue, the only possible theme connecting the poems found within The Bodies is the opinion that “things certainly are terrible nowadays, aren’t they?” These poems are often beautiful in their depictions of the natural world, but only ever in an effort to show what has been lost or abused, either literally or allegorically. It all results in poetry at an arm’s length — poetry that cannot reach its writer, no matter how skilled he may be, because it is not written by him but by his infallible idealism.
Take, for example, this representative quote from “Something to Remember,” where the narrator muses over the things he’d do if he had a handgun: “feel overwhelmed by the way absurdity / and arrogance seems to rule / how gadgets have replaced communion / how empty and primitive it’s all become / cops lying and shooting / politicians lying and spending to kill / no one thinking deeply / no one questioning / no one in power caring if they do” . White’s stances are difficult to disagree with, and don’t ask their reader to question himself or a new point of view. Nagasaki was bad. Animal abuse is bad. Global Warming is bad. Worthwhile political poetry needs to take additional steps beyond this realization. (Joel W. Vaughan)