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The Louisiana Purchase

Prose Poetry  |  Linked Thematic Poems about the Louisiana Purchase
96 pages
Paperback with French flaps
ISBN 978-0-9846166-3-3
First Edition
Rose Metal Press
Brookline, Massachusetts, USA
Available HERE
Review by Leah Angstman

I could not resist this book. Firstly, let’s just get out of the way the fact that Rose Metal Press don’t make no junk; they know how to package a book. You can tell that there is loving care and pro work behind the binding, and their packages are stunning enough to make you want to pick up a title based on the cover alone. Such was the case with The Louisiana Purchase by Jim Goar.

This was a gem I picked up at the AWP conference because the cover spoke to the history nerd in me. I didn’t know the author or anything about the book, but based on the flaps (and I do mean flaps! French flaps!), I was willing to give a shot to this collection of eccentric, nonlinear, linked poems about the Louisiana Purchase.

Because I really can’t describe the premise of this book better than the French flaps describe it, I’ll quote:

The linked poems in The Louisiana Purchase carry the reader past Ozzie Smith and Thomas Jefferson into a world where the moon is an outlaw, a weeping elephant flees from the authorities, the Pinkertons upset the sky, effigies of Phil Niekro are burned, and a society made of words collapses. […] The Louisiana Purchase is what Alice would have found had she fallen into William Clark’s map instead of a rabbit hole; it is an uncanny territory that both delights and disturbs.

It is, indeed. Most of this book is shrouded in vagueness, relying heavily on fairytailish images to invade the image of pre-America that you thought you had. It is history remade, retold, an imagining entirely new that infuses a romanticism into the New Frontier that goes beyond cowboys and Indians and fair-skinned ladies traveling from back East, unknowing what they’re in for. This reimagining is told through a hybrid of poetry and prose-poetry, in short bursts, tied together with drawn boundaries and map arrows, leading you through the Wilderness as an early explorer of the land and the self, as if you’d just discovered thought, and the mercury in your bloodstream, that slow spinning. The short bursts are colorful bullets:

A gunfight has just concluded. Eight corpses
will not be moved. “Buzzards and worms both
got to eat,” a child says. “In this town no one is
(p. 46)

[…] My horse
looks at me with sad eyes and turns itself in. I petition
the law. My petition is denied: the law does not allow
take backs
. My horse is blindfolded and given a
cigarette. Its stoicism inspires the crowd. They demand
proof of a broken leg. When none is given they liberate
my horse. For the next eight days, it is the symbol of
their revolution.
(p. 53)

Small pieces of poems have lines repeating throughout the book, or within the broken-down sections of chronology and madness. These pieces have the repetition of delirium, night sweats, of circling around landmarks and coming back upon them days later when you thought you had walked a straight line. Often, these repeating patterns seem to circle around the landmarks, then walk right past history and into the present day, in and out seamlessly, a juxtaposition of where we are now and where we are from:

The law wishes to finish what it started. My horse
is blindfolded and given a cigarette. A firing squad
awaits the order. Before it can be given, my horse
falls over dead.
(p. 56)

She takes the urn off the mantel. We mix
the ashes with plastic. The resulting frisbee
is orange. We throw it in the yard.
Eventually it lands on the roof.
(p. 57)

The poems get lengthier and more coherent the longer we go through the book, with fewer vague, nearly hallucinatory images, and they take on more of a story feel that ties the work together as a whole. The shift becomes our own modern-day concrete consciousness working through and filling in the history, as the figures and rhythms of the past get spotty and fall to madness. The result is a story of Western expansion told through our modern lives, a story of endless land and sky that can shrink into a box, much the way we shrink all of history into tiny footnotes at the bottom of a textbook. Jim Goar gives imagination and life to those footnotes in a way that is, indeed, as the French flap suggests, both delightful and disturbing.

Leah Angstman is Editor-in-Chief and Director of Publicity at Alternating Current and a transplanted Midwesterner. She writes historical fiction and poetry, has had 20 chapbooks published, and has won numerous awards. Her writing has appeared in Los Angeles Review of Books, Tupelo Quarterly, Midwestern Gothic, Shenandoah, and elsewhere.

• This book was purchased from the publisher at AWP. The reviewer has had brief business interactions with the publisher, but does not know the publisher personally and does not know the author. • Permalink • Tag: The Volt •

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