Book Review: Here Both Sweeter by Daniel Carter

Here Both Sweeter by Daniel CarterThe Kent State University Press
ISBN: 978-160635-157-4

Reviewed by Erica Spriggs

Daniel Carter received his MA in English from Ohio State University. He is currently working on a PhD in Information Studies at the University of Texas at Austin. He is the author of This Apparatus, published by Furniture Press in 2012. His most current chapbook: Here Both Sweeter, published by Kent State University Press in 2013, is the winner of the 2011 Wick Chapbook Contest.

Here Both Sweeter tells the story of a man gone off to war, his letters home, his disconnection from the one he loves. The chapbook showcases Daniel Carter’s ability to create texture through unexpected images. He invokes a sense of childlike awareness as he juxtaposes the macabre with the light, reminding us that death is a wonder, an idea he captures through the following poem:

This is how I hope
it ends: lawn chair
tied to broken
car, car
covered with foil.
Me there.
Something held
up by air, ribbons,
oil wells, shell
with painted woman,
some new kind
of cloud. I would
love to see a bird. (8)

Each image in the poem, titled, “Sky Filled,” gives a sense of flight, lightness, and the possibility of taking off toward adventure. For the speaker, death is hopeful; however, his assent is obstructed by memories of the past, which manifests as ‘ribbons’, ‘oil wells,’ and the “shell with a painted woman.” Through the image of the shell, the reader is prompted to question if the woman is a shell, if she is hollow, if some inner part of her moved on, leaving only a shell for the speaker to remember her by, like a photograph. Through the shell, Carter gives the poem a sense of abandonment, loneliness, a sense of time: how long has the shell been empty? Where is the woman?

The shell and painted woman are separated by a line break, allowing the reader to make a multitude of possible interpretations: the woman could be literally painted on the shell, making her less real, flat, impermanent, more like a memory than any other object in the poem, which makes her the most significant object to the speaker, because for the speaker, the image of the woman’s face, is more closely connected to the reality of her existence.

The endless interpretations make the poem feel expansive, untethered “like some new kind of cloud.” Because Carter is suggesting connections rather than naming them, the experience of interpretation is richer, more personal and relatable to the reader, who has to use his or her frame of reference in order to create a context through which the poem can be understood. To describe the loss of a loved one, a relationship, though the objects one sees floating above them as they die, is unexpected; it reinvigorates the imagination.

The last line of the poem suggests the speaker would prefer not to have his memories accompany him on his journey; a bird is better, a bird instills a sense of hope and freedom. The ‘oil wells,’ with the up and down movement of hard work, which suggest a blue collar life, contrast with the elegant ethereal movement of ‘ribbons,’ which symbolize the ‘painted woman,’ because ‘ribbons,’ ‘shell,’ and ‘woman,’ each end a line, following a shift in the poem in which the reader describes the setting in more detail. The ‘ribbons’ indicate that perhaps she came from a family of higher class and did not fit in with the speaker’s blue collar life. Ribbons are decorative, delicate, adopt the shape of whatever force is exerted upon them. Oil wells are made of steel and can only function in one way, exert a force in one direction. In these two images, the poem gives the reader a sense of why the relationship didn’t last without needing to state that they were complete opposites.

In the poem, “Loves More the Cherry,” as you see the speaker occupy her ordinary life, enjoying the prettiness of it, you are confronted with the deaths ahead, that she will die, and no amount of conversing with the day or the wind or admiring her “winter gloves” will save her.

This disconnection gives the reader a deeper sense of the tragedy that separates the man who has gone off to war and the woman left behind. The innocence of the speaker, the way she acknowledges death, greets it as if it doesn’t concern her is similar to the bravado of the speaker from “Sky Filled.” She, too, is not afraid. The speaker states:

my way? I know a story about
a farmer hiding in a basement,

asking someone for the wind
to spare all he has built. And I have
built a little stack where maybe

a barn used to be, and sometimes
I hear the wind coming too late

to grab my hem and bring in
everything I picked that day. (13)

The wind is destructive, intangible, a force that can reorder the speaker’s world, yet she embraces the risk. She says, “Hello, day, I am trying again / the green grass pasture with handy // clutch in hand and flowered slip- // dress.” Of course, it is possible the woman in the poem is not the same woman from “Sky Filled;” however, both poems end with the same hopefulness:

So I try like this: Hello, wind,

I am not like you, am less fast
and break little. I try like this:

empty one pocket and walk
away, hopeful and missing. (14)

Carter’s images make you want to see a story, to link each poem with the next, so that you can be hopeful in the end. That is the mystery of Carter, the magic of his craft. The collection of poems makes it difficult to turn each page, to ignore the epistolary dear, because the man off to war and the woman left behind cannot respond to each other; they are trapped on the page, and you are trapped with them, hoping with them, lost in the images that only Carter can create, which is why Here Both Sweeter is a must-read.

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