Book Review – ‘Particularly Dangerous Situation’ by Beth Gordon

I pre-ordered a copy of this book from the publisher. The author graciously provided me with a PDF in advance of my print order.

Beth Gordon’s collection Particularly Dangerous Situation is a strong showing in the wake of her debut, Morning Walk with Dead Possum, Breakfast and Parallel Universe. This chapbook is a showcase of Gordon’s brilliance with form and language, and a testament to her comfort and confidence in her own poetic expression.

This is a book about journeys, both the physical and spiritual. Beth considers how the passage of time affects us, both in our world views and our inward reflections. This is evident from the opening poem, in which she writes:

Unmoved by visible magic, we return one-by-one
to our screens, like sedated
vultures waiting for someone to die in front of us, bubonic 
plague, rabies, salmonella, something
riddled with bullets
and primary colors that we can photograph and share with our 
high school classmates whose skin we
haven’t touched
in years 

The possibilities that are imbued in ageing mix with regret stemming from choices not made, roads not taken. There is a sweet wistfulness in this, a need to hold on that wrestles with an equal desire to let go. Gordon considers not only her own years, but those of her loved ones and the impact advancing years has on them. This blends with the realisation that these life journeys bring with them considerable gifts – love, friendship, wisdom. The final lines of the last poem sum this message up perfectly:

Our souls are finely tuned to the slightest change 
in gravity, the leaving of each unspoken life. We are 
the keepers of emergency-room stories. We welcome
with heart-crushed peace. 

In this collection, the form is varied and this keeps the reader fresh. There is a masterful use of form in this collection and Beth is not afraid to show she knows the rules before she breaks them – here we see the sonnetype, a variation on ekphrastic poetry which responds to a Patti Smith story, elegy, aubade. The prose poems shine; they are a specialty of Gordon’s, in which she pays as much attention to the line breaks as in more structured poetic forms, creating subtle yet considered effects. But it’s the language in this book that is the star. Each verse sings with a musicality that yearns to be read aloud, and finds the reader tapping a finger or foot:

Today your lungs 

are clogged with unseasonable fog, your brain trapped in the 
waking world, and I cannot sing, so I speak you to sleep, tell 
you fairy tales of cloak 

and dagger passengers 

The lyrical wording and precise use of sound in these poems, particularly alliteration and unexpected rhyme, keep the reader focused on the words and how they fit together in unusual ways. This creates a sense of anticipation as one is always wondering where the poem will lead next. 

Beth Gordon’s Particularly Dangerous Situation is a beautiful, haunting catalogue of poems about the different journeys that make up a life, and the experiences of love and loss we catalogue as we progress through them. Sometimes sharp, sometimes heartbreaking, this is a delicious and complex collection of poems and a masterclass in how words can make us feel, in myriad ways.

Particularly Dangerous Situation is available for pre-order now from Clare Songbirds Publishing House.

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