Oyster Perpetual, by Austin LaGrone. Lost Horse Press, 2011. Poetry. Review by Debrah Lechner.
There’s an emotional response that develops when reading Austin LaGrone’s poetry that reminds me of watching Tennessee William’s plays, or reading his best short fiction. At the moment I’m thinking in particular of William’s short story “Two on a Party”, where the perpetual road trip and the visceral feeling of movement continue even when the characters have stopped.
LaGrone has the same way of catching a moment, quiet or not, while his subjects are already moving on. Whether they are resting, conversing, drinking or simply observing each other, they’re already on the way to somewhere else. The characters he draws aren’t easily jammed into a particular place, attitude, or identity. The result of LaGrone’s finely developed sensibility for continual change in his characters and the landscapes they live in is this—the subjective, objective, passionate, indifferent, loving, mundane, tragic and amusing are all well acquainted with each other, and have no difficulty sharing a room. If difficulties do arise living together in such close quarters, the result is all the more interesting.
The title of the book “Oyster Perpetual” meant nothing to me. Poets are liable to choose obscure names for their collections that may or may not acquire meaning as you read, so I don’t usually (as we are warned against in aphorism) judge a book by its cover, but this time I had the impulse to Google “Oyster Perpetual,” and discovered that it is the name of a Rolex watch. Considering the sense of continual movement as manifested in discrete moments that permeates LaGrone’s work, I decided the title was sort of brilliant, if still obscure.
I like to provide a taste of the author’s writing in my reviews. I am a sucker for humor, and although this is not by any means the most profound or lyrical poem in Oyster Perpetual, I have decided to quote it just because I thought it was fun to read. From the poem “The Apology”:
Even though you are in a private room, it is, at best only visually
private. We can hear Everything. Any noise reduction you can
manage while performing acts of intimacy, use of drugs, or
conversations in general would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Room 8, pretend you are at the zoo
or listening to the mating rituals of nomads.
Wish your rendezvous in Vegas last year
was half as mad. Dream in color Room 8,
use your imagination, record it and sell it
back to us on a hot-line. But learn to love it,
live it vicariously, practice biting the pillow
as though to learn just how difficult
silence can be. When the jackhammer
splits the sidewalk you say nothing.
The janitor, with his mop swashing,
and swashing, goes unnoticed.
Need I mention church bells?
Room 8, times like this are rare. Frankly,
last week I was feeling a little bit rusty.
I know the lure of leather boots
is cliché. But such things have significance
or, at least, playfulness.
―So, the boots and the cuffs and the biting
the animal noises and rough talk
are staying until Thursday.
Oyster Perpetual is the winner of the 2010 Idaho Prize for Poetry. Austin LaGrone was born in Louisiana and has been published in multiple literary journals including Hayden’s Ferry Review, Black Warrior Review, Brilliant Corners, Fourteen Hills, Many Mountains Moving, Spoon River Poetry Review and New York Quarterly.
You can find three videos of Austin LaGrone reciting his poetry on this Youtube page. There are also several copies of his poetry in print on the web. Look for his work at any bookseller. At this point, there is one copy of Oyster Perpetual left at Amazon.com here.