Monday, January 4, 2010

Stabbed in Stanzas Book Review: Voices from the Dark by Gary William Crawford

Reviewed by Karen L. Newman

Gary William Crawford dissects his life in verse in his latest collection, Voices from the Dark. In his afterword, he explains that he divided the book into the four parts that delve into the various important stages of his life to show that we as individuals are made of more than we appear. These are ‘Voices from the Divided Self’, ‘Voices from the Shadow City’, ‘Voices from the Phantom World’, and ‘Voices of Death and Loss’
The segment ‘Voices from the Divided Self’ refers to Crawford’s struggle with schizophrenia. He seeks relief as in the poem “To Absolve Pain”: I seek neither heaven nor hell / but a world beyond these fiery walls. The author appears suicidal, yet writes on. The language is fluid and the images are haunting as the theme moves seamlessly to survival.
The section ‘Voices from the Shadow City’ delve into Crawford’s liberal political thought. He paints a world where the conservatives leave the world a dirty place with people starving. The police state is a believable nightmare as in “Four Angels/Four Eyes”

They take me to a hospital
in the garbage dump
outside the city.
“This is the proper place for you,”
say the monitors of mystery.

Here Crawford’s referring to the future fate of homosexuals. People can’t sleep in another poem, for fear of dreaming of a better life. All the poems in the section are frightening, not by the use of flowery language, but in the plainspoken words accented with alliteration.

‘Voices from the Phantom World’ are the voices beyond the grave from a planet where people’s spirits go after death. This planet is unlike a heavenly cloud. Here people are as they were on Earth. The spirits change form in some cases, but the personalities remain. The horror here is there’s no redemption. The hell on Earth is the hell evermore.

In the ‘Voices of Death and Loss’ Crawford mourns the death of his lover, John. The first few poems are stereotypical of a lover lost. The section moves from grief to the nightmare of existence, and then to general death poems. In my opinion, these are the weaker poems of the collection and should have been placed in the middle of the book, not the end. Most poems are forgettable. The one standout work of this part is “The Ruined Church”. These lines are quotable

But I am not evil—
just a piece of broken stained glass
from a window in the nave.

Voices from the Dark spans twenty years of Crawford’s poetry. His talent is obvious. The breath of his knowledge is displayed well.

-Karen L. Newman