This is honestly one of the best and most enjoyable books of poetry I’ve ever read
— Michael Meyerhofer on February 13, 2017
As someone who cut his teeth on “eastern” verse, I’m no stranger to shorter poems. I’ve often heard it said that less time on stage means less can go wrong, i.e. shorter poems are somehow easier to write–an idea that I’ve always found ridiculous. With shorter poetry, there’s actually a lot more riding on every word, every syllable. But J.R. Solonche is more than up to the challenge. In this book, Solonche is sharing a lifetime of wit and experience, a whole library of bittersweet moments and insights–and all of it, free of pretension.
I can’t stress this enough: this is honestly one of the best and most enjoyable books of poetry I’ve ever read, and I’ve read thousands. This is also the rare sort of book that you could hand either to a factory worker or a gilded academic and both would be left speechless. The playfulness, humor, and accessibility of these poems blend so perfectly with the underlying brilliance and craft that these poems seem effortless, though they’re anything but. As I was reading this, I kept asking myself, “How is this poem NOT being taught in classrooms all around the world? And what about that one? And this one? And that one?!”
I used to teach a class on Zen poetry, where we frequently read stuff by the ancient Chinese poets, as well as contemporaries like Billy Collins, Kenneth Rexroth, etc. I wish I were still teaching that class because I can guarantee that this book would be a class favorite. It’s certainly a favorite of mine.
The author of Beautiful Day and Won’t Be Long, two recent books from Deerbrook Editions, has several poems in Poetry Atlas. Poetry Atlas is mapping the world in poetry. We collect and map all poems about places, whether by great poets, or by you.
Hemingway’s House, Key West
They wanted the tour they said
to be “a positive experience.”
So they don’t say how he died,
the muzzle of the shotgun
in his mouth, his brains all over
the walls of the house in Ketchum.
The cats are descended from his.
They are everywhere.
Many have six toes.
One night he got drunk, brought home
a urinal from Sloppy Joe’s
and made a water trough for them.
The best part is the studio.
That it isn’t in the house.
That it’s in the guesthouse where he’d go
to write The Green Hills
of Africa and A Farewell to Arms
and For Whom the Bell Tolls,
standing there beneath
the glass-eyed gaze of the antelope,
the eraser of the pencil in his teeth.
Dennis Camire is an up and comer, all right, and much thanks to you for Combed by Crows. The poems engage us with their promising titles, and deliver with skill and energy. I like what he says, and he says plenty.
The most striking aspect of Dennis Camire’s poems is how they recalibrate our lens on the familiar. They celebrate poignant moments when honest curiosity allows a reader to assume an unfamiliar point of view. Like the widow feeding seagulls, one can “feed with like greed on all the grace” in these swooping poems, and be consoled on the way “through grief ’s coastal gales.” If we need reason for awe, read “The Song of Our Cells”: our most basic rejuvenation is cause for amazement.
Camire’s poems show us by example that abstraction and transcendence are not required to practice presence. The poems reflect on plain moments observed with gentle humor while buying groceries, gardening, repairing a stone wall, fishing for trout. Such moments are not abstractions. They reveal that what might seem banal is layered and often cause for solace. Like St. Augustine, Dennis reminds us over and over that “love draws us to the things of this world.” And what a lovable world his is.
—Jeanine Hathaway, Vassar Miller Prize, 2001, The Self as Constellation
Dennis Camire currently teaches college writing and creative writing at Central Maine Community College and at White Mountains College. Additionally, he’s on the board of Maine Poetry Central which curates The Portland Poet Laureate Project and the poetry series, In Verse: Maine Places and People, which appears in The Sun Journal Sunday Edition. His last book, Stone By Stone: Poems about the Art of Dry Stone Walling, was published by Finishing Line Press. He lives in an A-frame in West Paris, Maine.
To apply Dennis Camire’s own words to himself, he is indeed a “birder of words” working at “altruism’s altitude.” If all poetry implies a vision, what the poems in Combed by Crows see is how important beauty is in a broken world—beauty and compassion—how they can be found almost anywhere, in the autistic boy trying to get a date, in giant pumpkins and lowly earthworms, in our language itself, from the letters of the alphabet to the many names of fishing lures. Camire sees and celebrates it all, not denying our wounds, but finding in them the source of love. These poems become models of attention and curiosity, gratitude and a full-hearted embrace of experience. T he images are vivid and compelling, the syntax becomes a river, carrying us through an amazing series of verbal rapids without once tipping us over. I love this book. It’s like the donated organs described in one poem, giving our tired cynical minds a transplant of marvel and wonder.
—Betsy Sholl, Former Maine Poet Laureate
What Dennis Camire does best with inventive, metaphoric language is to praise “this world’s strange beauty.” But even more important than this, he never lets us forget those who are seemingly excluded from paradise: the autistic, the maimed, the disfigured. Thus among kids “whose eyebrows dragonfly with delight” and “the purple and green roots” of their hair, we find in the same park “the mother with/Down’s syndrome child in tow/slow to marvel/at this Garden of Eden of Teens/ . . . the way he always blossoms/that same smile to each unexplained glory.” I grinned and cried at these poems, but seldom separately because Camire knows the inextricable intimacy of laughter and tears.
Spurred to dreaming by these wonderful lines, I, too, began to imagine, and there were his forebears, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ogden Nash, meeting somewhere outside of time and space, sharing this book. And why not?—these three poets of pied beauty and dappled things.
—Bruce Guernsey, former editor of The Spoon River Poetry Review and author of From Rain: Poems, 1970-2010