Michael Sikkema to Ben Somers
Do you know the singer Ray Wylie Hubbard? In his song “Mother Hubbard’s Blues,” he sings the lyrics “I’ve got two nickels and a paradigm. / It ain’t spelled right but it rhymes. / Help me. / I’m about to derail.” This is a love song, in a “simple” Blues format. The rhythm section, the lead guitar with its country blues twang, and the snap of the snare drum are tight, together, there, note after note, bar after bar, which sets off Hubbard’s bending, and blurring, and pushing, and pulling, and coming as close to derailing the lyrics as he can get without actually doing it.
It’s not that Hubbard’s lyrics remind me of your verse. I’m not calling you a Country Blues poet, though if I were, that wouldn’t be an insult. What I’m trying to get at is that the tension created between the tight control of the band and Hubbard’s near derailing, I think, has everything to do with your chapbook Your Sorcerer’s Way.
The tight couplets and tercets and sharp line breaks of your poems are downright classic. When I first opened the book, and squinted at them, I expected something like a Robert Creeley poem, or a William Carlos Williams poem or, frankly, lots of other peoples’ poems. Then when I got the chance, I really read them. I noticed that these are Ben Somers poems. I wasn’t altogether sure what that meant yet, but I knew it was a good thing.
Spending time with Your Sorcerer’s Way, I noticed that like Creeley and Williams, you “think with your pen,” but the thing is that your pen thinks for itself. I don’t see you riffing on other poems, making allusions, or trying to write into some vein, traditional, experimental or otherwise.
Instead, there is a warm anti-logic at work, a thinking through the world where we watch you “connect / with ghost / ship pirate hats” and “ghost ship / pirate hats connect / with lilac / carpools.” You even use the language of logic, and story problems, to tell us that “therefore” you “connect / with lilac carpools.” The tight structure of your lines and the logical style of your statements create the perfect rhythm section to highlight the bizarreness of “dog / show laughing fits” and “bloodshot / nail polish.” Throughout the chapbook, like Hubbard, you seem about to derail, but you don’t need any help.
No, you seem just fine as you tack your “thoughts to train / wrecks and bring about / nuclear / meltdowns with only / a grin.” Your destructive poetics gives us “kittens / dying in bulk,” “missile / marked satellites,” and all “the different grounds / for divorce.” But all the destruction and pestilence and buckshot and car accidents are orchestrated with machine precision and humor. The rhythm section of your sharp lines and your logical tone keep you firmly on the rails even as you dig a hole that contains “all / the ways someone / can shy / away from a better / life.”
I’m sure that some folks would read your poems and say something about surrealism or “soft surrealism” or whatever the kids are calling it these days. I don’t really understand any of that conversation or how that term is used. I can say that I think that your poems tap into good ole American weirdness. By this, I mean the kind of strange that happens when someone simply pays close close attention to the world happening, and to language.
So, if you’re keeping score, I don’t think you’re a Country Blues poet, a Creeley wanna-be, a Williams follower, a Surrealist, a Soft Surrealist, or crazy. I think you wrote some scary, smart poems and I’m thankful to Lame House Press and Gina Myers for putting them into the world.
You end your chapbook with the poem “Power Outage or, The Happiest of Birthdays. It seems fitting to end this review the same way, with a nice walk towards open flame.
All we had
to light our way
Michael Sikkema is the author of several chapbooks and the full length collection FUTURING. He likes all the versions of the song “Sitting on Top of the World” that he’s ever heard.