Reviewed by Eric Barstad
Shane Rhodes takes a lot of poetic risks in The Wireless Room (NeWest 2000). Rhodes is not governed by any one style, form, language, or theme; he is about variation, innovation, intelligence, and electricity.
In terms of metaphor, Rhodes’ writing is rich and evocative. His metaphors and similes can be brief and vivid (“a jet splits the sky, a scalpel in a Caesarian” [“Home Roads” 8]) or long and drawn out, as in “Twilight, Watervalley Hills” (11-12) in which, for the entirety of the poem, the hills are compared to the dialogue of a drunken uncle. These metaphors can also contain a lot of emotional intensity, as when the speaker of “Claims” says of his alcoholic father, “My father swallowed the 30 years before him / and everything after // in one big drink” (35). This is also true for the poem “Claim” in which the father figure is given several different identities throughout the course of the poem, the images piling one on top of the other at a rapid pace. In general, the metaphors and similes of Rhodes’ work are almost always “new,” not previously encountered in any other context. He compares very disparate things, a trait not uncommon in the work of poets like John Ashbery.
In terms of form, there seems to be no pattern to the poems, their structure relying possibly on subject matter and/or the poet’s whim. For example, “Clytaemnestra” (25-28) consists of two long stanzas, both of which are pressed to the left margin. Yet, in the poem sequence entitled “The Unified Field” (82-95), some of the pieces spread all across the page, barely contained. Rhodes is very good at both styles and seems to justify the use of both — which is to say, one does not question his tidy stanzas, nor the ones with words that drift across the page. In some of the poems, he also plays with line-breaks, not merely ending on a suggestive word, but sometimes breaking in the middle of the word without using a hyphen to warn the reader.
Rhodes really distinguishes himself from other poets in his use of grammar and syntax. Again, variation is key when considering the poems of this collection, for Rhodes doesn’t stick to a specific grammatical/syntactical style; i.e., in one poem, he may use full sentences with full punctuation, while in another he’ll use full sentences with no punctuation, while in yet another he’ll use incomplete sentences with (in)complete punctuation. As well, within any given poem, he’ll vary the length of his sentences between short, long, and medium lengths. He may also use a non-standard diction in his poetry and will play with language, depending on the given situation: the phrase “unbickerable exactitudes” and the word “Thrasonicle” in “Clytaemnestra,” or the entire poem “Meditation on the Electron” (46).
Perhaps it would be erroneous to say that this book contains only one voice, but that is how it seems. Other characters speak in this collection, but for the most part, they are filtered through the voice of the poet. However, there is a tremendous tonal range here, stretching from a kind of quiet seriousness (“The Unified Field” and “Claims”) to a more buoyant humour (the garden poems) and including everything in between. All in all, this is an excellent collection of poems.
Eric Barstad is the editor of PoetryReviews.ca, and he currently lives with his wife Erin and their two cats—Finnegan and Pickles—in Brooks, Alberta.