Untitled Country Review (ISSN 2152-7903), published quarterly during 2010-2013, features poetry, book reviews, photography, and short works of non-fiction. Thank you for visiting.

Issue 4 - Review: John Vick

John Vick. 2009. Chaperons of a Lost Poet.  22 pages. Buffalo, NY: BlazeVOX.
ISBN: 9781935402459.

Reviewed by Susan Smith Nash

There is something about a long poem that refers to one's youth and coming of age in Oklahoma that evokes pain, longing, nostalgia, and a bimodal innocence/experience tension.

Norman often becomes the epicenter of awakenings and self-awareness. The reason for it is often attributed to the fact that the state's largest university is located in Norman, but I think it's much more than that. After all, Norman is the convergence point of disparate and emotionally destabilizing realities: the local history of the United States’ betrayal of Native Americans (Potawatomi, Chickasaw, and Absentee Shawnee nations within 20 miles), the presence of Oklahoma's largest mental health complex, the National Severe Storms Lab (with its legions of tornado-chasers), the site of the great Land Rush / Land Run after the Civil War, just to name a few.

Oklahoma is fond of the spectacle. Of all the states of the Union, it is probably the most theatrical -- after all, who else has a Broadway show tune as their official State Anthem?

But, I digress.  John Vick’s Lost Chaperons is a long poem shot through with Oklahoma consciousness and contradiction.

What does that mean? For one, the poem incorporates a deep, solid appreciation for all things passionate, showy, even destructive. There are tornadoes so intense they pull the grass up from the medians, reduce shopping malls to bare concrete slabs.

On another level, there is the longing and the frisson of drag: The glossy and brittle stylings of a Tulsa art deco soiree contrasted with the two-hour drive to Norman, where the stylings meet hot sweat and tears and awakenings -- this is what surges from John Vick's writing.

Vick's voice is decidedly phlegmatic; it refuses to pander, and nor does it whine. This is surprising, since so many of Oklahoma childhoods become hyper-aware of the unstated desires of those who surround them -- especially those who are off-limits.

There is something very compelling about the journey of memory and time; revisiting the gritty Campus Corner restaurants, there so long they’re fixtures, with their beer, garlic butter bread sticks, and hand-tossed pizzas. It is a plunge into  squeaky clean, big-screen football bars in what used to be exotic dancer dive bars carrying such quirky names as “The Organ Grinder.”  

Vick writes of other places, too; his narrative takes the shape of a collage of scraps of paper, text-messages, emails, updates and feeds, "tweets.” He writes of things happening 25 years ago, but he uses the latest technologies. The reader understands that he’s using whatever it takes to have a revisited birth of consciousness.

As such, the awakening is surprising and, at times, upsetting.

There is a sweetness about Vick's narrative, even when he is instructing the reader how to be hard, how to confront one's sweet-sad past. The sweetness tears at one's heart, and it nudges the reader to reexamine the dark caverns of his or her own experiences. There is a sadness in this kind of nostalgic gazing, but there is also the potential for a profound reawakening and inescapable euphoria or catharsis. Which one will you have?

Vick's long poem forces the reader to confront the layered nature of reality, and consider how it intercalates concrete memory markers, emotions, and flashes of ambivalence and perceptual perturbation. Lost Chaperons takes the reader into images, and burrows into the edgy, unresolved tensions between memory and the ideal.

Susan Smith Nash examines poetics and the convergences of text, media, and culture in recent articles published in Press1, Golden Handcuffs Review, and World Literature Today. She functions as managing editor for Texture Press, and maintains an edublog, www.elearningqueen.com. Susan lives in Norman, Oklahoma.

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