Skip to main content

Sentinel Species by Chase Dimock, reviewed by Mike James

Sentinel Species
Chase Dimock
Stubborn Mule Press 2020
Reviewed by Mike James

Early in the book of Genesis, Adam names all of Earth’s animals. Even in myth’s endless dream time, that is a formidable task. The image of Adam, artist-imagined on one of Eden’s rocks, came to mind while reading Sentinel Species, Chase Dimock’s new bestiary of poems. Dimock doesn’t name the animals. That work is already done. Instead, he either re-imagines them in unique and sometimes comical situations or he utilizes them as catalysts for introspection and discovery.

The best-titled poem in the collection, “Burying my Dog Behind the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library”, illustrates how animals help to mark timelines of grand history and ordinary lives. The poem begins, “In the hills of my hometown / I have witnessed the burials / of two house cats / a golden retriever / and the 40th President / of the United States of America.” Dimock then begins to weave through a combination of public events and private memories. In the process, he shows how the public becomes private in memory.

In “Coming Out to a Spider” Dimock imagines a teenage boy grappling with same sex attraction and “the desiring vocabulary of sleep.” He relates the spider’s web to the entanglements of societal and parental expectations. He has the speaker “practice stuttering beneath / the stare of eight eyes at once.” For the speaker, truth comes in the saying. As sex is performative, so is the out loud verbal acknowledgment which leads to it.

Far away from desire is “The Vulture and the Little Girl.” The poem is based on Kevin Carter’s famous photograph taken during an African famine. It is a devastating accompaniment to the photograph. Dimock outlines the image in a few deft lines, then follows the photographer as if he were the vulture’s shadow. What is especially unique about the poem is that its very cohesion does not lend itself to quotation. No one line stands out, but all the lines work together. The poem is like a piece of Amish furniture: deceptively simple, yet tremendously hard to duplicate.

In “American Gothic”, one of the few non-animal related poems within the collection, Dimock shapes a story within the characters of Grant Wood’s most famous painting. In the poem, the artist’s sister has “all the realism / of the rutted earth / plowed across her face.” Like the painting, the poem is grounded in clean lines. It does not draw attention to itself.

Dimock’s style throughout this collection is clear and subtle. His focus is always on clarity and his poems all operate with simple diction. It is that simplicity, that willfulness away from the poetic, which provides this collection’s greatest enjoyment. Dimock is never trendy or posing. His well-built poems stand tall and alone.

Mike James makes his home outside Nashville, Tennessee and has published widely. His many poetry collections include: Journeyman’s Suitcase (Luchador), Jumping Drawbridges in Technicolor (Blue Horse), and Crows in the Jukebox (Bottom Dog.) He currently serves as an associate editor of Unbroken. 


Popular posts from this blog

Ed Dorn's # 22 From Twenty-four Love Poems

                                               from Jacket The strengthy message here in #22 of 24 Love Songs can be summed up in two lines: ['There is/no sense to beauty. . .' and '. . .How/ the world is shit/ and I mean all of it] What I also like about this brief poem is the interplay between the title of the book and the subject of the poems (love/anti-love (which is not hate)): it's all a mass of contradictions, like love. And I have to say that the shorter poems of the Love Songs and the last book he wrote before dying (Chemo Sábe) seem to me much better and more memorable than the Slinger/Gunslinger poems. These (generally) later poems probably attempt less stylistically, but are more sure-handed, hacked from a soap bar, maybe. Easy to use, but disappear after use. In any case, Dorn is well worth the reading and re-reading, for me, though he'll never become one of my favorites. And doesn't every poet want that, dead or alive? ;-) #22 The agony

Jim Daniels

Half Days My daughter, thirteen, pale shred of herself, fought an unidentified infection in her spine as it softened her discs into disappearance. I’d unread that story if she were young and still listened to lullabies. After she got discharged, I set an alarm for two a.m. each night to shoot antibiotics into her port while she slept, her limp arm resting in my hand. Her return to school: half days—follow my dotted line smearing across months of sleepless breadcrumbs— at noon I idled high, anxious in the school driveway rattling off the latest test results in the zero gravity of fear. She startled me with the brittle thunk of the car door slam, then snapped at me for staring at her friends as they strolled across the street to the cafeteria, creeping them out, she said, embarrassed by illness like hard acne or a blooming hickey, wrong music or flakey hair, or the tacky middle-school jumper she no longer had to wear. I was there to drive her to

Paul Blackburn and Sexism

How does one respond to sexism in poets whose work seems to be filled with it, like Blackburn? The quick answer most people would give is: ignore it. Yet here I am, reading more and more, and yes, enjoying, the supposedly sexist work of Paul Blackburn and wondering why there isn't much if any criticism of his important work in the late 50s and 60s, when he served as gatekeeper and recorder of many readings which have helped establish the avant-garde presence and reading scene in New York as well as given us great historical insight into the poets associated at that time with the New York scene.  And of course I'm thinking about his poems, which kept him in the middle of things as a talent in his own right. It's not difficult, unfortunately to see why he's not read, and that makes me sad. His poetry is worth more than a few cursory footnotes to the era. I've come to the conclusion now, after dipping into the collected poems at length, but randomly, and reading fo