Alchemy by John Yamrus
Reviewed by Dominic Scopa

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Alchemy boasts several of John Yamrus’ familiar talents that appear in his other books. Yamrus remains as impossible to pin down or label as ever. His poems celebrate the happy solitude present in everyday events that ostensibly seem uninteresting such as drinking coffee, enduring a colonoscopy, cleaning the pool, feeding the dog. Strangely, a certain degree of intimacy defines these moments. This ardent focus on unnamed realism shines in the first poem of the collection: “give me poetry / that you don’t know / what in the world you need to name it” (Yamrus 4-6). The poems do no necessitate a label, because Yamrus spins a genuine experience into the lines. A label would undermine this sensual experience. Labels litter academic poetry and Yamrus fervently admonishes this practice through his speakers: “i don’t / want to be / judged the best. // i / don’t / even want / to be in the running. // i / just want to survive // one / more // day” (Yamrus 13-30). Another speaker criticizes “do not / force / your tired, / tarnished bonhomie // on / my / soul” (Yamrus 1-7). This poem harnesses the grit and “guts” that Yamrus boasts in his previous collections—the toothaches, hemorrhoids, pimples, “jobs with no heart,” and “people with no soul.” Yamrus crafts these pieces with tremendously powerful line breaks that welcome the reader into reading the next line. This precision to line breaks imbues the seemingly ubiquitous experiences with a vivacity. Many of the poems exude a humor; however several of the pieces slam into the reader with a somber heaviness. One poem describes a few books and photos strewn around a room, and then an unexpected ending shocks the reader: “these / are the things // he / looked at // as he / stepped / off the chair” (Yamrus 13-19). These poems ambush the readers, because several humorous pieces usually precede them. This unexpectedness accentuates the poems’ effect, so that only “blood, and guts, and bone” persist. Yamrus’ poems need to be read and, as Mark Statman states in the collection’s introduction: “Forget the sutras. Put these poems on your walls. And read.”