Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Richard Froude, The Passenger

Phase Four: Camouflage

Penguins wear dinner suits.
This is what people say.
We give them names like King or Emperor, but they never answer.
I am imagining an empire without language.
Most of the children are orphans.
They stand beside me, pressed to the glass.

I am reading Thomas Wolfe.
I am reading a short paragraph that charts the evolution of life on this planet.
Look Homeward Angel, he has forgotten the birds.

Winston Churchill kept a parrot.
He also kept a dog. He called his sadness a black dog.
I am Archaeopteryx, misunderstanding Churchill’s parrot.
He is squawking about the Nazis.
I want him to fly with me, over to the Gardens.
We shall fight them on the beaches. (“The Birds”)

After reading American poet Richard Froude’s poetry collection Fabric (Denver CO: Horse Less Press, 2011) when it came out [see my review of such here], I became an immediate fan. After a few months, I even began travelling with the book, a small collection of thoughtful prose meanderings, with lines and passages tight enough to be bulletproof. He follows Fabric up with The Passenger (Cheltenham, Glos UK: Skylight Press, 2012), a continuation of his lyric-prose stretch and long, lyrical moment, where all loose threads are tightly woven into a large, complex cloth. I’m amazed at how intricately his threads cohere, from his play of scenes, movements and sections.

Scene Three

Return to map of British Isles printed over with lines of binary code.
A weatherman winces.
A child appears in the museum case, above and in front of the seated man.
Girl at café table, reading, we cannot see her face.
A shudder on the seismograph.
A caterpillar begins to cocoon.
It is struggling.
(“Practical Maths (TV Edit)”) Thatcher knocks on the grey front door.

The collection is made up of two sections, each themselves broken down: The Margaret Thatcher Trilogy, which includes four sections (yes, four sections): “Practical Maths (Exam Conditions),” “The Birds,” “The Spectacle of Empire” and “Practical Maths”; and the section The History of Zero, which includes” “The Passenger,” “The Surgeon’s Daughter” and “Songs for Birds and Rivers.” 

I’m fascinated in how The Passenger is constructed out of a single, clear thought that shoots off scattering in multiple directions and returns, nearly novelistic in scope. With characters such as Design and Zero, who else references Ottawa’s Billings Bridge Plaza in poetry? (Froude lived briefly in Ottawa around 1990.) The Passenger is a book of scenes, poems, sentences and a continuing line, with the base of a story hidden underneath the stretch of prose poems, and adds plenty of weight to the idea that Froude is quickly becoming one of the most exciting American poets working within the structure of the prose poem.


There is too much water here. I am driving to Montana in a flatbed pickup. There are stories I haven’t told you. And I must tell you these stories because you understand. What it is to be between continents. The refractions of aeroplane windows. This, our personal history of Zero.

Design illustrates thousands of ways that two improbably attractive people can find each other. These are stories about symmetry. I must tell you about a house built entirely of driftwood, reclaimed from the ocean like the lowlands themselves. Our tremendous sensitivity to earthquakes. The rituals we employ to carry our dead. (“The Passenger”)

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