By Lynette G. Esposito
Of Mineral by Tiff Dressen, published by the nonprofit Night Boatbooks in New York is a contemplation of form versus subject. Because the forms are hard to represent here with total accuracy, a description of form will be discussed in relation to the poems.
In the poem, A Letter in May: Portals from San Francisco which begins on page four, is stretched and arranged as if the narrator is on a particular journey perusing the city. The poem consists of eighty-four lines presented in three-, two-, and one- line stanzas which are arranged in a form as to suggest a winding and unwinding forward movement just like wandering and walking around.
The poem is printed from page four to page nine which makes a little difficult to follow.
The poem opens with the first stanza flush left.
This city is a Labyrinth
I walk in my head
another poet repeats.
Dressen proceeds with lines spaced, indented, and stand-alone to suggest barriers from going and finding solution. The poem is also divided into sections with lines to indicate the change. On the journey, average but representative things are observed. One wonders in another’s mind, seeing and trying to understand the metaphorical meaning until the last lines
house with phantom
“It’s still warmer here”
The reader realizes the search is for safety and finds it in a familiar although imperfect place. The image of a labyrinth has been successful in relating not only to a walk-through San Francisco, but also to the walk through life.
Dressen uses this visual spacing technique in his other poems. For example, in the two- stanza poem on page seventeen, Dark Sky Preserves, the spacing is complex and no punctuation is used to clarify.
Because I wanted to learn how
to look at the sky
I chose from among
While the spacing and stretching is interesting, the poem’s words are strong and the images successful. If I have not been one hundred percent on the spacing, I apologize.
In the poem Night Arc: in October on page thirty-five, a more traditional form is used. It is a one stanza verse with eighteen lines that is flush left and moves down the page in one skinny stream.
we begin with
motion liquid oar
we took on water
some fish spoke
lungs some large
who is native
and who is not
those who could
those tiny faces.
The poem is well focused and lean. The images are clear and the ending is successful which demonstrates Dressen can produce both traditional and nontraditional verse with equal skill. This poem keeps the reader following the movement in the water until the final study of those being observed.
Dressen varies the lengths of the poems as well as the subjects. The volume is fifty-nine pages of poems and is especially worth exploring for those who enjoy manipulation of form.
Dressen’s first book of poems Songs from the Astral Bestiary was published in 2014
You can find the book here: https://nightboat.org/book/of-mineral/
Lynette G. Esposito has been an Adjunct Professor at Rowan University, Burlington County and Camden County Colleges. She has taught creative writing and conducted workshops in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Mrs. Esposito holds a BA in English from the University of Illinois and an MA in Creative Writing and English Literature from Rutgers University.