You might be in the mood for a crystal-clear lyric, perhaps, or your lethargy demands something a little more stirring; you may be in need of the discordant, the unforeseen, to trigger some memory, some vague sentiment or reaction; or it might be that a flip chart of arresting imagery might just do the trick. Whatever your tastes you’ll certainly find something to chew on in Morehead’s collection of twenty-seven poems in three acts; poems that in their sheer randomness command attention, as indeed do the fine-line drawings and atmospheric photographs that enhance and punctuate them.
Such is the breadth of subject matter, you will not be in the least surprised to come across a cement beaver, its iron teeth exposed, gazing up at a lamp post, or hear the cacophony of bells from a pinball machine. Nor, after reading four exquisite haiku on the subject of petals, will you be thrown by the discovery of the bones of a French bulldog tucked inside an artist friend’s hearth. You’ll come to expect the unexpected, because leafing through this book is akin to walking through an exhibition, through a series of galleries wherein Morehead’s far-reaching imagination is released. Such a free-for-all might be considered an easy option for a poet unburdened by the discipline a more thematic work calls for, but don’t be deceived: control and direction are very much here all right, if lightly worn, and serve to compliment and strengthen the poet’s vision.
Much of the poetry is inspired by, or is reflective of, the visual arts. These poems appeal because an extra dimension is seemingly gained by interpretation, or by focusing on one particular passage in a photograph or a painting and building on it, setting in train the poet’s own creative processes. This sort of artistic transference is nicely illustrated in the poem “is the image already there,” where the poet, in conversation with a painter friend, proposes that:
perhaps it’s sleight of hand that brings
nasturtiums to life, so delicate
among vines and green,
floating off the page,
and goes on to:
. . . walk along the gallery walls,
pausing by each echo of light
dissolved in water, serene behind glass,
It’s an intriguing piece, dwelling on the delicacy, on the ephemeral quality of imagery that suggests rather than establishes, that appears to signify something other.
Each poem earns its place by dint of its richness and originality, none more so than the title poem, “The Plague Doctor,” which is a detailed memory of a photograph taken at a Halloween party, “chilled by a veil of fog.” It features someone in a blue velvet overcoat “cut high to shield your neck in folds”; a bowler hat covering “blond hair with blood-soaked tendrils”; spectacles for eyes; and a scary mask, the image of which the narrator “can’t shake”; a mask with a beak filled with dried flowers and spices to ward off unhealthy and dangerous vapours. An ominous atmosphere is nicely developed with each line building up to its dark conclusion. It’s a gothic oddity which is both surprising and not a little disturbing.
Colour combines with genuine poetic feeling throughout. Take “Twilight in the Sculpture Forest” for instance, and walk through the trailhead guarded by the rusting figures of a father, mother and child made from discarded bits of metal. You’ll go on to find, along with the earlier mentioned eager beaver and others, Pan playing the flute, “each note suspended, held and silent”; a sleeping huntress, naked and carved from Belmont Rose; and a somewhat eerie limestone hiker bearing a maple leaf, with one foot forward and one set back whose face is entirely featureless. The last lines, where the author falls asleep and wakes unable to move, his tongue turned to stone, round off this fascinating poem quite beautifully.
And just as beautiful is this little consideration of the sun, which seemed to spring from nowhere:
They pray to me
Ra, Magec, and Inti
in fusion born
to burn ten billion years
in stone temples
under my golden hue.
But, of course, a wonderfully condensed image like this doesn’t just appear out of the blue; it’s wrought from poetic sensibility and a painterly touch, and both qualities are abundant in this curious little collection.
The final poem, “When you perform my autopsy, be prepared,” is a nicely constructed and thoughtful piece, where the speaker asserts that beneath his clean-shaven skin “are gears, actuators, circuits, and optics,” where blood is replaced by oil, “and my memory merely quantum sparks / that will vanish when fusion’s chain reaction ends.” He calls himself a Potemkin village of a man:
More than just a conceit, it is actually a coldly cynical and rather sad rumination, where this shell of a man lies sleepless at night, “trying to solve the world’s problems / queued up to infinity.”
Morehead is the very antithesis of such an individual. As well as being open to the myriad blessings circulating unseen, to the potential of the moment, and to the ideas and insights of fellow artists, he has that rare ability to corral language, play with it, bully and boss it around a bit, to produce the lively and engaging poetry gladly discovered within these pages.
About the Reviewer
Robert Dunsdon lives near Oxford in the UK. His poetry has been published in Ambit, Allegro, The Crank, Candelabrum, The Cannon’s Mouth, Decanto, Picaroon, Purple Patch and others. His book reviews have featured in Tupelo Quarterly, Heavy Feather Review, The Lit Pub, Sugar House Review, Colorado Review and Poetry International.