Black Coffee Press
The definition of a prose poem remains elusive. People argue about whether the prose poem can indeed be considered a poem, since it abandons the art of the line. Daniel Romo’s debut collection of prose poems When Kerosene’s Involved disproves this argument. Laden with brilliant imagery, alliteration, and consonance, this collection lights a fire that never quite extinguishes itself.
Darkness and light are common themes in poetry, but what about the light that burns an orange and red, one brought about by fire? Images of burning and the bloody, injured body recur throughout the book. Add to these fragments the consonance of the s weaving itself through many of the poems and you know something’s ablaze. Aptly titled, Romo’s first poem “Singe” begins with the speaker remembering his grandfather who never learned to read which he then parallels with his own scholarship in school:
I got C’s throughout high school and relied on Cliffs Notes.
There was nothing about mourning.
It’s in this last line that the reader learns where the fire begins.
Prose poems are mystical. They work against form. The skill is in the compression of language, and for Romo, this task seems effortless. His poetry possesses an aura of impersonality and wit, and it effectively revisits themes of identity, or mis-identity, and loss without being redundant or too sentimental. Comic relief arrives by way of writing exercises or logic problems as well as other poems that mix pop culture spanning generations from Casablanca to The Little Rascals to Kool and The Gang to The Young and the Restless. It makes for a good case of nostalgia.
Loss resonates in many forms: the death of a grandfather and a mother, the falling out with a father, and divorce, but the most poignant of these are the loss of a child and the loss of a sense of self. The reader witnesses revolutions of the speaker disappearing. In the poem “Profile” he describes himself as “missing”; in “Franchise” he calls himself “dissolved”; in “Unplugged” one aches to read the line:
What if the boy doesn’t know his father’s name when he
sees him in heaven?
In his introduction to The Great American Prose Poems: From Poe to the Present, David Lehman writes that “the prose poem is poetry that disguises its true nature,” and it is here the reader finds a telling parallel between the form of the poems in this collection and its speaker. He longs to be someone else, and “worship[s] childhood idols.” He stars in spaghetti westerns, yearns to be Danny Romalotti, the soap opera star, and later admits he’s “studied the science of forgetting ourselves.” Zorro even makes an appearance. Why the nostalgia for our childhood heroes, the longing to be them? Perhaps it’s his inner self wanting to be noticed, to matter outside of himself. It’s his wanting not to be alone.
Let’s not forget the burning. In the final poem from this collection “Distance,” Romo skillfully employs anaphora to heighten the nostalgia:
Remember when the match was lit. Remember when the
taste of fire was tangible? Remember when you said,
“Anything can happen when kerosene’s
involved. Remember the scent of feathers singed.
Fire destroys, but fire banishes darkness. It’s also known to symbolize desire. Daniel Romo’s When Kerosene’s Involved is filled with questions that long to keep burning, and as the line goes in his poem “North,” “where there is fire, there is hope.” This debut book is a hopeful collection indeed.
An Erasure poem, by Andrea Beltran:
Andrea Beltran lives in El Paso, Texas and moonlights as a poet. Her poems have recently appeared in Blood Lotus, caesura, and Pyrta. She’s the web editor for Referential Magazine and blogs about poetry and writing at http://andreakbeltran.wordpress.com.