Down by the Old Mill Stream

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Tate rarely knew when to quit—he was no story teller, as a writer of prose poems almost has to be. I recall a reading more than forty years ago when he kept interrupting himself with a fit of giggles. I admire a poet who can read his own work and laugh himself silly. I thought about calling my mother, but she was in heaven. I called her anyway. I had fallen asleep with my teacup in my hand. When I awoke I realized I thought it was a phone. My mother would never be so sarcastic about heaven. The Brothers Grimm stand in the background, as, perhaps, do Edward Gorey and the now almost forgotten meta-plagiarist Jerzy Kosinski.

With their bizarre events, unlikely coincidences, mad turns of plot, and appalling misfortunes, these poems strive to be filleted versions of nineteenth-century dime novels. There are even a few magical resurrections, as if Matthew and Mark had been brought in to punch up the script. Stallings fell in love with the classics in college and never fell out of it. Her poems are knowledgeable and knowing, with cultivated intelligence and a disturbing love of poetic form. With the decline of Biblical knowledge, the Greco-Roman dramatis personae have become convenient stand-ins for setting the ancient world face to face with the modern.

Stallings is capable of astonishing passages, rich with antique sins and flash-forwards to the star turns of their distant descendants. Sometimes she offers striking images,. Such passages can be found only in short supply here; and too many poems in this gallimaufry of a collection the poems soullessly arranged in alphabetical order by title are, for all their loyalty to rhyme and meter, drab and Doric.

Indeed, the loyalty is itself fragile.

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Here she drops a foot, there she adds one—the result is a casual mess. The meter is now and then deft, often clinical, but always vulnerable to the glitches and monkey wrenches of someone who either hears English in a peculiar way or is sloppy when it suits her. Pentameter can absorb a fair amount of brute punishment, but when the variations exceed the iambs the line almost always breaks down. Fourteen syllables with three anapests and a feminine ending are an end too far. The forms are filled out with a bureaucratic tidiness but not bureaucratic precision.

A trivial poem on pruning begins,. The poem ends,. The last line is such a groaner, all that meter seems a ticket to a no-show. She might have pruned, or just lopped, a bit more. Since Stallings published her first book twenty years ago, her devil-may-care facility with form has been warmly welcomed. By her early forties, she had received Guggenheim and MacArthur fellowships.

I like the multitudinous sea of her vocabulary, the tracery of her meter and laciness of her rhymes; but the poems remain more filigree than heart, more artifice than art. Despite all the dollopings of Bulfinch , these labored and brittle poems are often rather dull. They start in one place and end in another, but it would take Natty Bumppo and Chingachgook to figure out the trail.

They often include small Freudian dramas with every way in and no way out. The opening poem in A Piece of Good News begins,. That may or may not be an actual border: the currency, the coastline, and all else seem figments of allegory.

Down by the Old Mill Stream (Taylor, Tell)

The poet spends a lot of time on minutiae, on facts that might be fancies, so vaguely are they tethered to a real world. Some of these thirty oddments are flatter than flatfish, some sly, some just confounding. Too many of these squibs, however, might serve better as Zen koans or conundrums on some sophomore epistemology exam. If it were a sound it would be a ping ,. The material has difficulty rising to the style, because the style is so diaphanous. A poem more or less about President Obama jabbers on for nearly a hundred lines and makes watching dust motes a more thrilling proposition.

Still, these little tales and parables have something haunting in them, something in the atmosphere without being said, something like the come-hither stare of a predator. Many poems in this, her fourth book, are like being stuck in an elevator with a woman having a cell-phone argument with her boyfriend.

Or maybe she just wants to show you snapshots of her vacation in Bora Bora, the one where it rained incessantly, and some guy said. Peterson traffics in both. New York for Prikryl is all cities writ large. The shattered perceptions, the jarring sentences and fragments, are like a flicker book thumbed at speed toward some disaster.

The whole is nerve-racked by a comma shortage due to the long droughts in the comma fields of California. Prikryl is too canny a poet to take the easy way out, and these meditations on an oblique life possess little pressure points that reveal how tough-minded she can be:. Some just judder to a close, amputated by a willful muse. In this world where every perception is a threat, there are poems that manage to keep the chaos at bay:.

Prikryl at such moments reminds me of Kay Ryan, who takes the small and roughens it up in memory, or Walker Evans, whose furtive subway photos made even humanity seem human.

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Another poem is photographic in its nearness to the skin of being:. They lie in sharp contrast to her elegy for the New York Review of Books editor Robert Silvers, which freshens the act of memory with the living presence of the dead. Though her strengths are less evident in the poems here, Prikryl remains one of the few poets who could make the next ten years uncomfortable.

G eo ffrey Hill was the greatest English poet after Auden. His crabbed early work was brutish and chilly, like an Eliot who found religion in the barbaric world beyond the stained glass. The Blitz made a terrible impression on Hill, who as a boy saw Coventry in flames.

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The distant fires of London were just as haunting:. The City was destroyed through torpor and oversight though few even now will admit that; and become shifty and annoyed. My darling I am dreaming of the days gone by, When you and I were sweethearts beneath the summer sky; Your hair has turned to silver, the gold has faded too; But still I will remember, where I first met you.

The old mill wheel is silent and has fallen down, The old oak tree has withered and lies there on the ground; While you and I are sweethearts the same as days of yore; Although we've been together, forty years and more. Down by the old mill stream where I first met you, With your eyes of blue, dressed in gingham too, It was there I knew that you loved me true, You were sixteen, my village queen, by the old mill stream.

Down By The Old Mill Stream

They also performed the song as both the prologue and the epilogue for their album Chipmunk Rock. In It's the Pied Piper, Charlie Brown , Snoopy as the Pied Piper plays the song on his concertina to lure the Mayor and his city council away from the city hall and they then sing the song.

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