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Book Review: Nick Twemlow's Palm Trees

By Denise Jarrott

Early twentieth century playwright, poet and madman Antonin Artaud believed all writing was garbage, but wanted to write a book that would “drive men mad, which would be like an open door leading them where they would never have consented to go, in short, a door that opens onto reality.”  Not only Artaud, but I believe every artist wants to write this book, or at the very least have a book such as this in the world. The closest thing I have come to the book that Artaud describes is Nick Twemlow's Palm Trees.

At once lasting and ephemeral, like the sting of a wasp or a solid punch in the stomach, the poems in this collection distinguish themselves by their immediacy as well as their violence. Some of these poems exist as if they were said through gritted teeth, some through a mouth filled with blood, and in rare moments, as if from the first light of the morning, when the only person awake is you. The speaker of these poems seems to come from a past that is shockingly painful, and yet the confessional impulse has been tamed, as a dancer or prizefighter tames his or her body---by whatever means necessary.

Time moves sometimes in breakneck reverse, other times in sharp, cinematic cuts. Yet, Twemlow has mastery over the movement of the poems and the manipulation of their pace, pitch, and sound. Through driving anaphora, the poems have engines. This is most beautifully executed in "Topeka,Topeka" in which each line begins and ends with "Topeka", with devastation lying between : "Topeka, cast off the reliquaries! Call your men to war! Me? I'll be tugging one last hit from the bong I fashioned out of the shrapnel of Topeka."

What knocked the breath out of me when I read these poems was the way Twemlow can transform a word one hears all the time into something utterly different. At the end of "Palm Trees /6", after a couple knocks over a Brinks truck in front of the Starbucks and concludes that "it's better to feel alive than to be alive" the poem ends with "Skinny latte!" A phrase that I had, embarrassingly, gotten used to. Twemlow does not allow us to get used to phrases or even individual words. It is the relentlessness that give this collection its necessary force.

Nick Twemlow is a graduate of the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Palm Trees is available from Green Lantern Press and is available at Prairie Lights Bookstore. Twemlow and fellow Green Lantern poet Joel Craig's reading can be streamed here:

Listen: Nick Twemlow and Joel Craig reading | Nov. 8, 2012