Rapid Review: "Elephants & Butterflies" by Alan Michael Parker (BOA Editions, 2008) / by Peter LaBerge

By Henry Heidger, Blog Correspondent.

Welcome to our first-ever Rapid Review! The premise is simple: Our lovely blog correspondent Henry Heidger pulls up to a bookstore, walks in, and has an hour to read and study a book of poetry selected randomly from the shelf. Then, he writes about it here.

This collection is a meditation on the everyday—breakfasts, newspapers, auto mechanics. Parker provides himself with a framework of rigid yet balanced stanzas; this forms the meticulous terrain over which his striking imagery and colloquial dialogue must traverse.

The collection’s title poem “Elephants & Butterflies” meditates over a solitary breakfast. Using imagery from the Second Punic War, Parker coherently fuses two images: the migration of Monarch butterflies and a domestic relationship with an elephant. The poem is wild, dreamlike, and decidedly experimental.

In “Larkinesque,” Parker taps into perhaps the richest vein of imagery in the collection. He writes, “The shoes like partygoers in the hall / in pairs and singly alone.” The poem possesses the uncertainty and pessimism of Larkin, but infuses into the verse a tone of cool modernity and impending danger.

Danger and suffering are also present throughout much of the collection. “The Fog” and “An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding” both draw from the context of car accidents and their aftermath. Parker exhibits death and injury throughout, grounding the collection in starkly realistic contexts and situations.

As a whole, Elephants & Butterflies is highlighted by vernacular and conversational character, yet makes good use of classical references and philosophical motifs. Parker closes “Larkinesque” with the Latin maxim sic transit gloria mundi—translated as thus passes the light of the world and often interpreted as worldly things are fleeting. What better summary of the melancholy that underlines the collection?

 

Henry Heidger is a senior in high school from St. Louis, Missouri. He is a poet, writer, and critic. His work is forthcoming in The Scapegoat Review, and he is a cofounder of Young Poets of St. Louis. His favorite poets are Anne Carson, Owen Sheers, and John Berryman, and he plays the violin in his spare time. He writes the column "Rapid Reviews," which appears once monthly.