Of Whiskey and Winter

poems by Peter Conners

White Pine Press, 2007
81pp. $15.00
ISBN 978-1-893996-89-2.

A Review by Bernadette Geyer
In reading Peter Conners’ poetry collection, Of Whiskey and Winter, you come to understand the broad potential of the prose poem, both in subject and style. Thematically diverse, these poems cannot be pigeonholed – there are narratives and lyrics, letters and fabulist fables. Interwoven throughout the collection is an extraordinary sense of playfulness that exemplifies Conners’ ability to experiment and succeed in thwarting readers’ expectations of the prose poem genre. For instance, the beginning lines of “A Girl”:

A girl was a bicycle and she didn’t like her paint. She liked her wheels but hated her reflectors. Her rims were slightly bent. This caused her great suffering. She stood on the curb of an endless bicycle parade, not a race, and each one glided past truer, smoother, and bolted tighter than she.

Conners presents his subject in the language of the traditional fairy tale, but tighter: no once-upon-a-times cluttering things up here. There was a girl, and she was a bicycle. But the poem also works as an extended metaphor as the girl/bicycle searches in vain for someone who will disguise the creaking of her joints, or distract others from the dullness of my hue. The piece works as both story and poem.

There are also beautifully serious lyrics in this collection to counterbalance the levity. “Untitled” is a moving perspective of a father awaiting the birth of his child. But Conners doesn’t give us cliché images of hospital rooms and a screaming soon-to-be mother. No, he is much more subtle and more effectively evocative in his approach:

You will open the door to this mystery with the word breath. We will select the word mystery instead of the word eternity because they are all mysterious and always we must breathe this warm and mysterious. The warm and sober breath, the solemn and knowing breath; the lasting breath of satisfaction we have earned in earning our last, so the trickle of moisture that provides mountains with valleys and those with streambeds. I have been told to help you breathe and who am I to point out your previous mastery? There is so little that I can do while we wait to begin this life.

In Of Whiskey and Winter, Conners’ shows the distinct difference between a short story and a prose poem. In his poems, careful attention is paid to every word. Nothing can be removed from these poems, not even a comma, without completely changing their impact.

Bernadette Geyer is a freelance writer and author of the poetry chapbook What Remains. Her poems have appeared in The Midwest Quarterly, The Marlboro Review, Hotel Amerika, and elsewhere. Her website is http://bernadettegeyer.homestead.com.