Diphtheria Festival by Jefferson Carter. Main Street Rag, 2016.
Review by Lindsey Wurm
Diphtheria Festival by Jefferson Carter is his newest release in a long list of published works that date back 40 years. With cover art by Jim Waid, this book catches your eye right away with bright, warm colors and the feeling that this cover art belongs in a gallery somewhere, but that’s not the only reason you should pick up Diphtheria Festival.
It starts out with a poem by the same title as the book that feels more like a story. It doesn’t seem that the first poem is named after the book; it seems more likely that the book was named after the first poem. Carter’s writings feel more like a conversation with the reader and he sets that up from the very first page.
The poem begins with a simple internet search for Diphthera festiva, the hieroglyphic moth; Google corrects with the famous ‘did you mean…?’ This is where Jefferson Carter swoops in and adds his own voice in a simple sentence. “No, but thanks anyway.” Three lines in, it feels like a conversation with either himself or the reader.
“Know what’s so cool about Diphthera festiva, the hieroglyphic moth? Its evasive ‘system,’ an organ in its ear, activated by a bat’s high-pitched note, that signals its wings to spasm. The moth survives, like all of nature’s darlings, involuntarily.”
Carter uses this to set up the rest of his collection. A common theme in this book tends to be along the line of “involuntarily.” The poems touch on things you might think about for only a second, but Jefferson Carter has a way of digging deeper into those thoughts and extracting something that people can relate to on one level or another.
Most of the works seem to revolve around relationships. In fact there’s quite a large section of poems that all revolve around friends and family life and a couple of them that contradict each other. The biggest contradiction comes after Chair Dance, Mastectomy and I’ve Got You Under My Skin which all revolve around the narrator’s wife. This implies that we’re following the same narrator throughout the collection of poems. One poem that stands out as the biggest contradiction is The Note I Left.
This poem is the shortest, yet it left the biggest impact on me. Since a lot of Carter’s works in this collection revolve around family—there was even one that talked about men who said they quote-unquote “loved” their wives while the narrator ended the poem with a very clear “I love my wife”—this poem implied that the narrator was leaving his wife. After this turn of events, it does not make sense to me that this poem would be smack-dab in the middle of the collection.
Jefferson Carter talks about a lot of things including world hunger and modern dance, but I think he wanted to make the point that love and all that comes with it is the most involuntary thing you can experience.