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Crowd of Sounds

by Adam Sol

The first poem in Crowd of Sounds, Adam Sol’s second poetry collection, presents in miniature the book’s thematic concerns. Entitled “The Calculus of a Man Striking Water in Relation to a Boat Striking Wood, and the Pieces Shattering,” the poem describes a shipwreck in deliberately anesthetized language, and includes the subsequent reaction of a young witness: “how he will omit the story of the crash and of the captain thrown from the deck, but how he will repeat the whistled song in reference to the girls throwing stones at the water….” Here are the Big Three themes – loss redeemed through art (specifically music) and sexual love, whose end is tied to the bigger theme of death.

The poems exploit almost every event related to loss: a miscarriage; a father’s decline; the dissolution of marriage; suicide; urban dystopia; car accidents; natural disasters; wars; even episodes set in hell. Sol’s mind is geared to narrative potential, and many of these poems hinge around a single situation and its possible outcomes.

The effect is often striking. “Stunt” is addressed to a stuntman and describes a typical day of sham expirations – “If you are lucky, you will have/the opportunity to die four/times in the coming week.” But the end of the poem strands us back in reality: “Meanwhile, behind the wide/pan camera is a hack who’s just/learned that his liver is tumorous./Go to him now and show him how it’s done.” At other times, the poems feel manipulated to suit the book’s design. “Prelude and Variations,” about an adulterous couple about to end it all in a double suicide, would be less clichéd if it were more noirish.

The fantastic and intimately emotional poems are the strongest, throwing Sol’s prose-like diction into contrast with the appealing weirdness of his images. By contrast, the more realistic poems often feel belaboured, and their endings rarely pay off.