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Rezmerski 'knows' quite a bit

John Calvin Rezmerski's resume proves he knows what he's doing. His latest release from Holy Cow! Press -- "What Do I Know?" -- shows he's got a mind full of ideas.

John Calvin Rezmerski's resume proves he knows what he's doing. His latest release from Holy Cow! Press -- "What Do I Know?" -- shows he's got a mind full of ideas.
Rezmerski is Writer-In-Residence at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter and winner of several awards, including an NEA fellowship. His works have been broadly published, in journals ranging from that Wall Street one (yes, the Wall Street Journal) to the usual literary and science fiction ones.
And "What Do I Know?" comes with cover blurbs from the likes of Carol Bly and Bill Holm.
But one of the more interesting parts of the book was the introduction, which covers some unique territory. Rezmerski talks not just about the content of his poems but also about his evolution as a poet. He talks about 1966 advice from Robert Bly on how to treat images, about the role of ideas and images in poetry.
Moreover, he deals with the minutiae of poetry, the picky and often unconscious decisions poets make on their approach, their audiences, their diction, their speech-like rhythms. These are decisions all poets make, sometimes brilliantly and sometimes poorly, but they rarely sit and examine them, at least in print. Perhaps to their own detriment. This is just six pages or so, but it's sure to provoke thought among poets.
One point Rezmerski's introduction makes clear is that his poetry is about knowledge, about ideas.
That's clear from the opening poems. In the book's third, "Animism II," Rezmerski talks about live things and dead things, such as the living bench his father made and the dead table their family bought to put things on. In the last stanza, he writes of his father telling him some people buy other people. Then he slaps readers in the forehead with these stinging closing lines: "Somebody should go light them./People are not/to put things on."
That pattern holds for much of the early part of this book's 134 pages -- a sharp image and a closing stinger that pulls context from under the reader in the same way solid ground abandons the roller coaster rider.
In fact, one of Rezmerski's strongest skills is finding the detail and the perspective that shifts meaning. For instance, in "The Baptism of Annie Johnson," he writes of young Annie, "She wants to know/forgiveness/but grandmother/steals all of God's attention/with a gouty foot." These kinds of observations are witty and insightful and make for fun reading.
Other highlights from the book: "Way Back," "Alarm," and "Growing Down," all reprinted from Rezmerski's book "Growing Down." "Cherry Pop," also from that book, is a strange but somehow mesmerizing poem about two old people making love covered in cherry soda. Really.
"A Dream of Heredity" is perceptive social commentary. "Chin Music" is a brilliant prose poem treatment of the silliness of spending life honing words for fun and profit.
There are other highlights, too, which you'll have to check out yourself -- "Tarzan," "Alien," "Consumer Education," "Of All Possible Worlds," "Dance" -- some new and some from previous works.
Rezmerski's writing isn't as playful as much of the poetry I read, but he's a sharp wordsmith. He falls easily from the auctioneer's rhythm in "Soul Auction" to lines straight out of early horror movies in excerpts from "Dreams of Bela Lugosi." His poems are all prose poems or free verse, and Rezmerski makes use of alliteration, internal rhyme and complementary vowels and consonants throughout. The craft becomes clearer when you hear the poems, either in your head or read out loud.
That this becomes more subtle as the book progresses (roughly chronologically in the order they were written) dovetails with Rezmerski's introductory thoughts on poetry as a spoken medium, and how he has evolved in that regard.
I'll be honest. There are a few clinkers in here. A couple of poems are a little preachy, and a few just didn't click with me. One or two I didn't understand.
Also, these poems are a little heavy. "What Do I Know?" is not a particularly cheerful experience, though it will provoke thought.
However, there is much, much more to like in this book than to dislike. My recommendation is to read this book in healthy doses. Take 20 or 30 pages at a crack, really hear the poems, and then let them digest a while.
Kyle Eller is the Budgeteer book reviewer. To talk books, call him at 723-1207 or send him e-mail at kyle.eller@duluth.com . Submit your books for review to him in care of the Budgeteer News, 222 West Superior Street, Duluth, Minn. 55802.

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