River Bound by Brian Simoneau
C&R Press, 2014
Winner of the 2013 De Novo Poetry Prize, selected by poet Arthur Smith
These are poems of accrual, of sum and mathematically sung song. No detail is too small for Simoneau’s gaze, which takes each nail and board and beam surrounding it into account with a carpenter's knack for shape, structure, precision. Through humor and elegiac storytelling, River Bound chronicles the ups and downs of blue-collar American life in Lowell, Massachusetts, and elsewhere—creating a simultaneously beautiful and apocalyptic vision of the future in which ‘the moon slides behind the empty mills / as we wait, watching for stars to come down.’
Brian Simoneau is a rarity in his generation for the way he combines precision of feeling with an idiom that is taut, musical, and full of linguistic subtlety. Flashy verbal poets seem a little overheated, a little foolish, next to his intelligent restraint. His affection for his native ground—the old New England mill towns he grew up in—is dry-eyed, rueful, and hard-earned. His father's gas station, the mill workers of the 19th century, and the often hardscrabble life lived in these towns today inform but don't limit his vision of how ‘Life passes at the speed of grief.’ He has written as fine a first book as you could hope to read.
These powerful, diary-like meditations are a sort of psychic conditioning for the speaker—and there is a lot of conditioning to do: death of the father, death of the New England mill town—the only certainty, uncertainty. The lyricism is superb, and subtle, but lyric it is. What better place to discover song than in your own hometown? Brian Simoneau has done just that in River Bound. This is impressive, intense poetry.