Every Crow in the Blue Sky, Burgess Needle’s recent chapbook from Diminuendo Press puzzlingly chooses to kick off with a short academic essay on Needle’s poetry. Titled “Trailing in the Wake of Story: The Poetry of Burgess Needle”, and featuring such immortal phrases as “countercultural youth” and “a storyteller of verve and brio”, this introduction seems somewhat bizzare in a first collection by a contemporary and practicing poet. The tone is especially unnecessary when the poetry that it refers to is strong enough to speak for itself.
So even if the introduction left me a little cold, the collection soon picked up. In the first few pages we encounter a series of hauntingly dark-tinged poems that seem to be set in a somehwat wild and spooky urban America. A standout example is “Billboard Of My Eye”, a poem addressing itself to a new type of advertising billboard equipped with a camera that can capture the image of passers-by who stop to look.
While the poems vary quite widely in structure, certain essential elements of form are a constant. Needle freely uses space and line breaks to create poetry that is as much visual and sonic as it is linguistic. The scattered layout of “Cat Food, Fresh Fruit, Yeast and Psilocybin”, for example, lends the poem an air of loneliness and regret:
“some dried strands and a few buttons
for a visa to skip
out of a flat black & white
oh god is that my wrinkled face
in the bathroom mirror”
The collection is divided into three sections: “Connections”, “Trips” and “Close To Home”. While each section is eclectic in its poetry, there is a distinct mood to each. “Trips” draws in strands of mythology to add to the eerie, urban base established in “Connections”. “Close To Home” develops this theme even further, as well as bringing out the American origin of these poems.
Ultimately, this is a strong collection that manages to be both varied and unified. The only weakness is in the presentation, with the baffling inroductory essay taking second place to a couple of misplaced titles and strange artifacts hovering in the margin. Still, it is the poetry that matters, and these small issues should not detract from your enjoyment of this perceptive and powerful collection.