Shine Tomorrow by Joel Craig

Shine Tomorrow is the second short book in the third volume of the Lost Horse Press New Poets Series. Iowa-born Joel Craig, who now lives in Chicago, tells us in his personal statement that, “It’s in my poetic blood to make disjunctive arrangements.” In five long poems spanning sixteen pages, Craig employs a kind of idiomatic scrapbooking, combined with syntactic contortions, to achieve surprising psychological assemblages.

Consider the middle of “High Park,” for example:

It wasn’t until I had reached the hotel, getting out of the cab
that I remembered the blue nightgown, and laughed.

The door opened and a mass of electrified silver hair poked itself
into my field of vision. Words carving through my mind
occasionally taking a wrong turn
through labyrinthine caverns.

I didn’t even know I wanted cornbread with scallions until now.

Language, and where it leads us, is primary in these poems. Narrative takes a back seat. Craig is particularly fond of certain words and phrases. The word “okay,” for example, that milquetoast signifier of nothing-much assiduously avoided by most poets, is gainfully resurrected by Craig in multiple poems. The color green, Death Valley, and Buddha also weave their way through this tapestry. The phrase “It’s just so fun to speculate” repeats throughout “Thin Red Line”, as indeed these poems do speculate–leaping wildly from line to line.

But this collection represents far more than an exhibition of linguistic gymnastics. Near the end of my favorite poem of this collection, “Street Dad,” the speaker tells us, “I didn’t know I was suffering from an illness / known as depression. For the first time / in my life, I thought I was seeing the world.” Elsewhere in “High Park” the speaker says of one character, “He’s a person who, when he’s attracted to someone / intuitively senses what’s lacking in / their emotional life. A compulsion / to become whatever they need most.”

But even as these poems delve into the psyche, they resist structural tidiness. The opening poem, “Rational Rational” begins by declaring, “This war cannot be won.” It ends by saying, “Here is what happened.” Craig places a sure-footed phrase suitable for an ending at the beginning, and an introductory phrase at the very end.

These are poems seeking newness through juxtaposition, aware of the insufficiency of their medium even as they endeavor to transcend it, much like the speaker at the end of “Street Dad” who tells us, perhaps anxiously, “I sat for a moment, staring at my knees as I tried / to put broad, wide images / into small, tidy words.”

Shine Tomorrow is available in New Poets | Short Books Volume III from Lost Horse Press. Read more reviews from the Lost Horse Press New Poets series.