Friday, March 11, 2011

Review of William Trowbridge's "Ship of Fool" published by Red Hen Press


William Trowbridge’s new volume of poetry, Ship of Fool, is a litany of the things that can go wrong in life—and beyond.  Fool, the protagonist of each and every poem in sections I and III, is an accidentally-fallen angel who, after a truce between God and Satan, finds himself on Earth suffering through “ innumerable earthly lives.”

Ship of Fool reads like one of Anne Carson’s  verse novels as we follow Fool through incarnation after incarnation of misadventures both comic and tragic. A flat tire in a bad neighborhood, love derailed, cross-cultural miscommunications in a foreign land, a dog-bite that results in lycanthropy, and a nanostint in the Army account for only a few of Fool’s days/lives run amok. When fool sets out to save the world as Hitler’s guardian angel, he’s no Clarence, and there’s not much hope for a wonderful life. But the poem, “Fool and His Money” which chronicles this “wide-shot at guardian-angelship” twists us toward the silver lining that we sometimes find in our own missteps.

            “Fool’s put in charge
             of the Small Consolations detail that plants
            dimes and quarters under sofa cushions.
            Each one you find contains his blessing.”

The middle section of Ship of Fool—the meat in a Fool sandwich, if you will, takes us from the mythic to the personal in a series of poems that are most likely autobiographical. In the specifics of this particular life’s stumblings lie universal truths and the unveiling of the family skeleton: Fool is our brother. But there’s power in knowledge of the truth. In the poem, “The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” the narrator is our navigator, and his hand is on the throttle:

            “…stare at that box that just fell off the truck in front of you
            and you’ll hit it square as if you’d aimed;
            stiffen up in danger, struggle to regain
            control, and you’ll invite an overthrow
            that could be final. The things is,
            as the analysts say in chorus,
            to relax and focus on the bright side,
            on the place you want to go,
            not on the dark spot near
            the pavement’s edge…
            of your old fox terrier, snoot thrust gladly
            out the window of the Galaxy. Think
            of when, stretching out your arms and running
            down a hill, you were flying, flying.”
In Part III, the final section of the book, Fool is wiser and sadder, but he’s still all fool. In the “Fool Tree” it seems that there might be relief in store when Fool returns to earth no longer tripping and bumbling, but literally rooted to one place as a tree.  

            His twiggy pate
            will leaf out

            every year. Tall
            Anchored. Majestic.

            his thick bark deaf
            to the chain saw’s
            choke and rattle.

Fool can’t escape his nature. Nature can’t escape man’s foolishness. In Ship of Fool, God drives a Hummer, and the whole world is “hobbling the thousand miles that begins that doozie of a first step.” Thank God Trowbridge holds up a mirror to the works and coaxes us to belly laugh through our tears.

This is the first in a series of reviews that I will post from time to time. 

Ship of Fool is available at or from Red Hen Press.

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