Jul/Aug 2017  •   Reviews & Interviews

Activities of Daily Living

Review by Jennifer Finstrom

Activities of Daily Living.
Larry O. Dean.
Salmon Poetry. 2017. 74 pp.
ISBN 978-1910669709.

Among the many delights that Activities of Daily Living by Larry O. Dean's offers, the one that surprised me the most was a new awareness of and appreciation for the many common genres of writing that surround us and that we potentially take for granted. In addition to having an entire section of the book devoted to horoscope poems, this collection gives us renditions of a letter to the editor, a fraud alert, a confessional, an email from a student about missed classes, a list of reminders, a missing pet notice, and many more. A poem called "PowerBar Pro Meets Ferret Expert" combines two genres into something entirely different, and if it hasn't already been apparent, humor is a noticeable and important part of this collection.

As a Sagittarius with Libra rising, I read the second section of Dean's book, "Horoscopious," with interest. Horoscopes are certainly something that most of us have read, and I can imagine most readers flipping to their particular sign first before going back to the start of the 12 short poems. But even though I read "Sagittarius" with my own life path in mind, questions and phrases from the other 11 stay with me: "Sometimes your mind is your friend / and other times it's a mean, big sibling" ("Cancer"), "Someone who likes you may not / like the other people who like you" ("Taurus"), and "Confess your big wishes first—why / waste time on the little ones?" (Aries"). These are arguably helpful sound bites! And I may find myself reading my horoscope in the future with more of an eye toward how it would look as a poem.

Another poem of this type that stood out to me was "Reminders to Self." This is a genre that I write on a daily basis but never with such verve. The reminder to "pick up mail / toss into the air / observe bills / briefly beautiful / spinning / in the / wind" might encourage me to write more than "rent" on my own list. And the reminder that I am really taking away with me here is that even the humble list can give us something new.

Not all of the poems in this collection play with genre. What is, perhaps, my favorite is a poem called "Unicorn," which works instead with the idea of how elements of pop culture tend to return and repeat—and how sometimes the sparkly pop culture version is better than the so-called real thing. Reading this poem, I found myself transported back to the early 80s. I could easily have been one of those collectors of "those sparkly stickers / made to be affixed / to a young girl's notebook or bedroom / door." In fact, this poem had me so grounded three-plus decades ago that the reference to "one of those guys from Twilight" startled me and made me realize not only how much the world has changed but how much it's stayed the same.

This collection is a voyage of discovery made all the more appealing for how it makes the reader laugh along the way. The places where humor collided with my expectations were where I gained the most and most clearly saw the ordinary as something new. These poems are so enjoyable, in fact, that it wasn't until after I had finished reading them that I realized that I was seeing poetry in unexpected places and looking for the hidden story under the most expected of words.


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