Pure Product, by Jason Guriel
Review by Lori A. May
A second book of poems is a beautiful thing. The first date has come to a close, the first kiss remembered, yet the nervous sweaty palms are ever-present as we tango with getting down to the details of the matter. A second book of poems, as is the case with Jason Guriel, presents the opportunity to dig beyond the surface, no longer skirting truths, but instead relishing in disclosure of the personal, the abstract, the purity of fragments making a whole.
In Pure Product, Guriel takes pleasure in the rawness of minute details, pushing the reader to see beyond minutiae and envision large-scale life in progress. His method of comparison inevitably contrasts the words presented and the images imagined, offering both an immediate sense of pleasure and a lingering need to reflect upon the work as a catalyst. The reader is alerted to such machinations within fragments of the opening poem, “Less:”
Less, being more, makes
of the tectonic plates
a mountain ridge
the way the stark plain
of the White Album’s sleeve
raises the Beatles’ embossed logo
to the level of topography —
the way tiny things
can’t help being, next
to nothing, something —
Within this collection, Guriel picks at the smallest details wherever possible, examining the moments in between moments, and looking deeper. Why speak of the Coke can when there is a moment full of life waiting to be prodded, before the can is opened? Instead, poems such as “Thinginess” aim to exploit the nano-details, and “isolate / the thinginess / from its thing” as with “the pushback / of a Coke can / before it gives / way to your compacting grip.”
Too, Guriel tantalizes us with his approach to the traditional, freeing the reader from preconceived poetic notions with his “Spineless Sonnet,” and instead teasing us with modern skill and seemingly effortless craftsmanship. The sonnet reappears with the “Five Sonnets for Summer Storage in the High School Book Room,” wherein Guriel speaks of tradition, through a traditional form, yet entices the modern reader with popular themes, images, and pleasures so much so that the form is a mere stage for the poetic stars in this collection, as is the case with “2:”
When judging books by cover, don’t send down
Lennon’s killer, The Catcher in the Rye
in pocket-sized paperback — Little Brown’s
falsely accused suspect. Some covers lie
to readers, but not Salinger’s, bound in
blank blurbless white, as nude as nuns’ habits.
And though some fingers find cheap stock a sin,
Little Brown’s thumb-blackening newsprint sits
well with my faith. Small as a Gideon
Bible — minus God, guilt, and gold edging —
the pallid paperback tends to darken
with every semester’s fingerprinting
but its soul isn’t, as Holden would deem,
phony. Words, not their grimy covers, gleam.
Guriel’s poems are wildly expressive in their complexity, yet drawing on simplicity to illuminate larger perspectives. With the concept of “Less, being more,” as demonstrated within the lead poem, this collection pinpoints the smallest detail to examine its role in the larger sense of place. While doing so, the poet calls on both traditional forms and modern takes and combines learned mastery with an aesthetic of beautiful language, the familiar, and the personalized.
In the closing poem, “Footprints on the Sands of Time,” we are reminded “One giant leap / for man kind / of needs one small / yet firm step in sand.” The taut language and style of Pure Product zeroes in on such small steps, recognizing the moment within the moment, and encourages the reader to watch each seed grow into something more, something beyond measure. As such, Guriel ensures this second collection, our second date with the poet, is a tantalizing step toward what will undoubtedly continue as a beautiful and ever-revealing poetic relationship.