Belides Publishing Group

Magnesium

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Reviewed by Frank Wilson
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John Stuart Mill drew a shrewd distinction between eloquence and poetry. The former, he said, is heard. The latter is overheard.
The best of the poems in Ray Buckley’s Magnesium demonstrate the soundness of Mill’s observation. Take this one, for instance:
I was mistaken when I said
those things to you.
I’m apologizing now.
For being wrong and for
being very sure I wasn’t.
This sounds exactly like something you might hear in the booth next to yours in a restaurant, and it reminds one of how poetic the fragments of ordinary discourse can often sound — and be. Like many of the poems in this collection, this one’s first line serves as its title. None of the poems is titled “Magnesium,” though many of them and many of the lines that compose them bring to mind that experiment one did in high school chemistry class, when you set alight a thin strip of magnesium wire and watched it sizzle. “Who will reveal us to what we are thinking?” has just that sort of sparkle.
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Poems are not the only things here. There are prose interludes, and what are best described as playlets, fragmentary dialogues. One of these, “Piccadilly Circus,” has two guys in a phone booth at the London landmark trying to reach a girl to tell her where to meet them. It would make for an effectively absurd skit a la Samuel Beckett (who is referenced from time to time in the book). There is a sort of narrative at work here, defined largely by a sense of disaffection and the need for apology. This can be wryly self-deprecating, as in the conclusion to “One Too Many Things”:
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I work very hard to be considered significant.
I have intentions of having a very elevating photograph taken of me
at some point so it can accompany the paragraphs I’ve written
dedicated to my abiding attention to my own immortality.
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It does seem that the speaker in these poems has much to be apologetic about. There are the references to drugs: “I’d be in better shape to say something to you/if I had something other than 2631 in my system.” Cyclobenzaprine hydrochloride, known by the number 2631 on the pill, is a muscle relaxant, which would seem no big deal. But a later, one-line poem announces “I ran out of narcotics. But I have this bottle of muscle relaxers.” And the very next poem, also a one-liner, notes that “It’s very good for one’s career to affect a drug problem.” So we may well be dealing with a less than reliable narrator, which might be a problem were it not that the speaker himself sometimes doubts his reliability:
I’m sorry I made you believe I was a liar. The strangeness of my honesty was a red herring. … I don’t know how to properly explain to you how false everything you believe is.
The recurring sense of unfulfillment grows trying at times, but one never doubts its authenticity. It would appear to be a common mode of being these days. And every now and then there is the exultation of “Be Grace”:
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Tell us how you started it all.
Grow roots in us which we’ll
Wish ourselves the prisoners of
Reach in like all there is is reaching.
Be grace, and tell us your secret.
Like eternity, shine like eternity.
Go into us, contain us.
And be grace. 
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Ray Buckley is worth keeping an eye on.
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Frank Wilson is a retired Inquirer book editor. Visit his blog Books, Inq. — The Epilogue. Email him at PresterFrank@gmail.com.