Jan/Feb 2017  •   Reviews & Interviews


Review by Jennifer Finstrom

David Oestreich.
Purple Flag. 2016. 66 pp.
ISBN 978-0944048733.

I have been a fortunate reader of David Oestreich's poems in the virtual pages of Eclectica and an even more fortunate writer of a blurb on his collection Cosmophagy. Reading the book again has reinforced many of my first impressions, mainly that these poems have changed me as an observer of the world. Cosmophagy is a misleadingly slim volume. Twenty poems take the reader on a journey through the natural world, the world of myth, and the world created between the two. Transformation is very much the order of the day here, including transformation both fantastical and expected.

The first poem addresses an understanding of "not the names of things, / but things themselves," and this is an important distinction to be made at the outset. We see creatures called by various names, and the book talks of nymphs and dragons and the phoenix. But these names aren't always the truth, we realize, upon seeing that the dragon is really a salamander, the common mudpuppy. But is the mudpuppy the truth? This poem, and others, challenges our ability to see clearly and also—sometimes—asks the reader to be able to hold two ideas, two names of things, at once.

One of the poems in Cosmosphagy that has appeared in Eclectica is "Muse, Incognito," and this poem is worth dwelling on for its title alone. The muse of the title is one with a concealed identity, and in the muse's absence that is described, the reader is given other depictions of what isn't there, and we learn to see through absence. We are told at the outset, we "will not find Epiphany / among the trees" and this sets the scene for a world devoid of what we seek. But we have hope at the end, and even if the muse hasn't arrived, we have learned what conditions might transform the landscape to make that possible.

I mentioned this book has changed how I observe the world, and by that, I mean after reading these poems, I look more closely and make fewer assumptions about what I see in nature. In these pages there are fields undergoing the sometimes violent change of seasons, there are birds singing at the start of the day and being overheard by the poet listener, there is the emergence of life from a chrysalis. There might even be a phoenix or a dragon, albeit a small one. This wealth of details tells me all of these particulars—and more—might be found in the busy urban world around me, too, if I manage to pause long enough to look for them.


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