Fans of the Scrapper Poet know that I love collections that explore a specific sense of place, and that is what I love most about Bruce Snider’s Paradise, Indiana. I won Snider’s book during the Big Poetry Giveaway from the poet Shara Lessley (whose book, Two-Headed Nightingale is another great read!).
Paradise, Indiana is a book length elegy. From the start, we see the poet mourning the loss of a cousin. In many poems, Snider narrates the past. For example, in “Parts” the narrator explains the relationship he and his cousin have with automobiles: “In the back of that car, all elbows/and mouths, we knew nothing//corrupted like happiness.” This shared love is traced through many poems, but is especially important in “At these Speeds” where the narrator says, “He saved for months (mowing lawns, taking/extra shifts at the Dairy Queen) and when//finally he brought it home, I helped him/swirling rags, polishing until the hubcaps shone//the tires special ordered to fit.” It’s apparent that the narrator shares this love of cars, but then ends the poem pondering the choice his cousin made to take his own life: “But how could I imagine//such travel, knowing only the grief of it/which held me as long as it must have held him/engine//quivering, headlights filling the dark ordinary/garage, one sudden brilliance, then the next?”
Long after his cousin’s death, the poet grapples with life and loss, in several poems titled “Afterlife”. My favorite is the work where the narrator contemplates the significance of physical objects left behind: “Months later/his wadded t-shirt still smells//of chewing tobacco/his basketball jersey/unforgivable in its wrinkled heap.”
The poet also chronicles the loss through other characters. He explains in “Fortress” that “After his death, Aunt Starr disappeared/in heaps of faux gold jewelry…” In “The Girlfriend” the narrator watches as his cousin’s girlfriend mourns, but somehow moves on so “That spring, she’ll date a guy/on the basketball team” while the narrator himself says”When I pass her at school/I’ll pretend I don’t see her.”
A beloved cousin’s death is not the only loss detailed in this collection, however. Loss is very much part of the physical landscape. Indeed, the opening poem, “Map” is written in one of my favorite forms: the ghazal. In this poem, the persona offers both mourning and solace set against this kind of backdrop: “Each winter, sleet turns the cornfield into a cemetery/It’s epitaph reads: Indiana.”
It may be rather presumptuous of me to say that Snider has re-written the elegy. But I will say it anyways. Through the reconstruction of a Midwest that many believe we have already seen in poetry, Snider ventures into places such as gay bars and grungy rest stops, stores where grandmothers shoplift and backyards where young teenage boys touch forbidden sexual escapades, all the while studying what is means to suffer loss but also have hope. For those who love narrative poetry, this collection is definitely one you want to pick up! (And this is Snider’s second book. I now have his first book, The Year We Studied Women, on my wish list!)
You can find out more information about Paradise, Indiana here.