a berserker stuck in traffic by Erik Richardson. Pebblebrook Press, 2014.
Review by Kathleen Serley
Where to start talking about Erik Richardson’s a berserker stuck in traffic….
I could start with the eye-catching visual image of this slim book of poetry, the sepia cover photo of vintage cars in a neglected lot, clouds gathering behind hand-lettered signs announcing cars for sale. This is a book you will want to pick up, open, and discover the content inside.
I could talk about the formatting of the poems: attractive font, professional layout, added features of the title and poet’s name running in the margins on alternate pages.
I could tell you about my favorite poems: poems about love and work, teaching and parenting, the past and its connection to the present. Just about every poem in this collection, I would name as a favorite.
In the end, however, poetry is about word choice, vibrant imagery, and fluid syntax. Richardson is a master of these poetic expressions; so let me tell you about the imagery in Richardson’s poems.
Let’s look first at “absolute values,” which also happens to be my favorite poem in this collection.
there we stood in church, wrapped in nothing
but our absolute values, with church lights
forming the stiff, straight bracket lines
binding us in place in mexico, missouri.
as you clenched my hand
as hard as January ice, you cried.
I could think of nothing else
so I leaned over and kissed you
ahead of schedule, and yet too late
or too soon, both the same distance
like our wandering gypsy years since—
back and forth between positive and negative,
but when you laugh in the early morning light
all plus and minus signs covering us fall away
and I start over at zero.
I like the spare language, “wrapped in nothing but our absolute values,” and the imaginative word choice, but “when you laugh in the early morning light/all plus and minus signs covering us fall away/and I start over at zero.”
When you think all that can be said about love has already been said, read “absolute values” and discover a new perspective.
Richardson’s gift for imagery is evident throughout this collection. In lines like, “this truth fails if the circle is tilted/unbalanced by a wobble of guilt,” from “earth in the future imperfect tense,” and “but with the next breath rocks will turn/again to smoke, and rain/will gradually bleed the colors away/for the fall,” from “borrowed light.”
He can sustain that imagery throughout a poem as “on the edge of heatstroke” illustrates. The poem begins with the lines, “I remember the hot august texas sun/setting fire to the edges of an earlier life,” and carries that “heatstroke” image throughout with phrases like, “warning flags rose like mercury, anger cooking my skin, and my life is burning away in my hands.”
It’s the originality of these images that make them memorable, the surprise in the word choice that we won’t forget. So, as the cover invites, open the door to this lovely book. You’ll enjoy the ride.
Kathleen Serley, Wausau, teaches English and enjoys writing poetry. Her poems have been published in The Solitary Plover, Volga River Review, Verse Wisconsin, The Ariel Anthology, and Verse and Vision where she won the Artists’ Choice Award in 2012.