Saturday, November 11, 2017


Pinyon Publishing reminds me of the annual Festival of Words in Grand Coteau, Louisiana in its promotion of poets and writers. Of the fifty publications, during the past ten or more years, this small literary press has produced at least forty books that contain the poetry of new and established poets, many of whom have won awards for their contributions to the literary world.  Most of the poets’ work reflects the notion that poetry is an art “and not a pastime,” as Ezra Pound says, “and the mastery of any art is the work of a lifetime.”

Pinyon’s latest poet, Tim Suermondt, shows us his mastery of the art in The World Doesn’t Know You, a poetry collection that carries the reader away with its freshness, its unusually wry and unsentimental tone, the poems unfolding with surprises for the reader that sometimes border on caprice.

I was drawn to the love poems that Suermondt included throughout the collection, especially “Some Heart,” an unsentimental tribute to romance that unfolds with the aforementioned surprise and wry tone: “You’ve come to admire/your heart/s allegiance/and the way it never/faltered the way you have/when despair made/the mere thought of walking/along the Seine/with the woman you love/impossible. Look at it/donning a beret/for the occasion and saying/its name is now Pierre.” Such an outrageous picture of a romantic poet invokes a hearty guffaw at this example of the “poetry of play.”

Then there are the brief philosophical pieces that poke fun at the poet’s own periods of angst in “Once Slightly Displaced:” “What am I exiled from?/Life now and then/as most people are, but balancing acceptance/and estrangement is what I’m best at./ The stars over my city always move me.” The author seems to be understating a serious question in a short reflection lifting us out of serious considerations to focus on a distant star that comforts us when we feel isolated... 

I think that poets write many poems about dream life, and I know that as I grow older I have numerous nocturnal visits with dead relatives and friends that enter my poetry when the sun comes up. Suermondt’s “Dream Hotel” is probably my favorite poem in The World Doesn’t Know You — I could readily identify with his visit with his parents and the words that came to him while he was asleep, underlining the philosophy of another poet, Jacques Maritain, who wrote that no one comes so close to the invisible world as the sage and the poet (“unless it is the saint”). Suermondt describes his stay in the dream hotel: “I walk up the rickety stairs, suitcase and life in hand/and enter my room that makes bare bones sound/voluptuous…the air smelling sweet as chocolate covered almonds/and I watch images of people I’ve known but can/no longer place go by, until my mother and father,/young as the day I was born, appear briefly before/moving on…” Here are poignancy and play intertwined in evocative verse. 

“Bayou Pigeon” sounds as if Suermondt had traveled in Cajun country, and I gather that he has been peripatetic during his lifetime, so he may have actually visited Bayou Pigeon. When he begins the poem with “Crawfish shadows on the street,” I found myself with him observing the blind man on the corner playing a saxophone, locals declaring that “he sees with his heart/ and, darling, I think I know what they mean—/the world gives as much as it takes.” This poem illustrates the charm and clarity evident in Suermondt’s work, his mitigation of his own suffering through brief records of his encounters with tragic characters.

This poet speaks to the issues of the day in a lighter tone than many contemporary poets, excepting former poet laureate Billy Collins, and he also focuses on inoculating readers with the desire to maintain ordinary, enjoyable life while balancing both pity and humor in the written word: “a mizzle, lighter than Fall’s leaves/drop[ping] on my head and the generous world/equally” (From “When Nothing Will Do”).

Tim Suermondt is the author of six books of poetry, and his poetry has been published in outstanding poetry journals; e.g., Ploughshares, Poetry, The Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Oxford Review, and others. He lives with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Available through the premier poetry press, Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, Colorado 81403.

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