Behind the Titles: A Closer Look
at One Never Eats Four, a Collection by Samantha Duncan
Featuring ELJ Publications’ April Jones and Guest Steven Stam
This collection is not like the other ones I’ve read so far. This one is less straight forward, but really playful in the way that language is used. The poems are set up so that you come to an almost complete thought and then you drop into another line with a whole other meaning. I love poems like this. What did you think of it? Was it off-setting at all? Or was it a refreshing perspective on poetry as an art form? What I mean by this is poetry can be some many different things which is partly why it’s intimidating, but also part of its beauty and magic.
I’m not going to lie, at times I found the style a bit jarring. Not in an off putting kind of way, but rather I found myself in a constant quest for continuity. Normally, I relate with poetry where the central themes and messages are more concrete and substantive. This is not to say that the themes could not be found, but the work, was well, more daunting. In the end, I was better for the effort and might have found that magic as the poems convalesced into a collection.
I should say that I equally love straight forward poems. But there’s something about using language in a way that it’s not intended, or normally used, that opens up meanings you would have missed otherwise. For example, in the poem “Camera” the first stanza says, “I think of being a wet stone/ you’ll step on/ for the last time” can you feel the loss there? Can you see the end of a relationship, or is it just me? But because of the way the narrator makes a point to say that they are not only a stone, implying that something like this will roll off, but also pointing out that they’ve been stepped on before that maybe there’s a little sadness but maybe there isn’t. In the third stanza we read, “I typed/ ‘womb’? into a search engine once./ I typed ‘accident.’” It’s sparse and seemingly random until you put in a little effort, then the poem takes on a whole new light. What happened to the baby? Was the baby the accident or the relationship? It’s poems like this that teach you how to read. It teaches you how to look past the easy answers and find something, and sometimes pieces of your own story. Did you get something different from this poem? If so, I’d love to hear what you thought. If not, did you catch something I didn’t? Did you get the same kind of feel from “Fall Colors?”
Honestly, I want to be that stone, to see that stone and skim it with my fingers. Pangs of loss cascade from the lines. While I didn’t see an allusion to a relationship, I found regret and loss, something that can never be regained. That moment is lost, the childhood mentioned later, when the narrator searches for images while sitting on a seesaw, will never come back. We all want something that we have lost and this scene is no different. Is the baby from the third stanza gone? Does it matter? I would wager no, for her life is changed, baby or not, forever. She cannot go back. “Fall Colors” mimics this loss. She cannot go back, “unused breath” is forever just that, wasted and forgotten in the balloon. The stone we won’t see again.
In this collection’s poem namesake, “One Never Eats Four,” did you like the political undertone? My favorite line was, “Has there always been more metal/ than flesh coming home?” Did you have a favorite line? I feel like this poem was a sort of delightful social commentary soup, if you will. We cover: being nothing more than a number, political speeches, computers, waste vs. conservation, and poverty. That’s not just ambitious, it’s so hard to do and not make it preachy or cliché. However, it’s that playful language that leads us through these topics and not ever realize it. It’s also the fact that there aren’t really any accusations or opinions. It reads factually and jumbled. It’s tricky and brilliant all at the same time. What did you think of it? Do you agree with the tone I sensed or did you think the narrator was picking a side?
I very much caught the social commentary, Duncan seems to take no prisoners in that arena. On the political undertones, if they were there, I missed them, taking mention of “inaugural speech” as initial speech patterns uttered by a child, more references to loss and past experience we cannot fully understand. But you are right in noting that the piece covers a broad range and yet remains genuine, a very difficult skill. Yet at times, I found this prose too frantic, too jumbled, too far apart. I wanted to be grounded a bit more and lead to the center of the poet’s focus. That said, the peace retains meaning and beauty, drawing from it’s pace and disorder to create the playful nature you describe.
The poem, “Annual” was one of my favorites. It’s a poem about death, but focuses on obituaries. This is a very personal glimpse into the narrator’s story. We learn that even though we’re talking about the narrator’s friend escaping a fire that the narrator feels guilty, or maybe responsible, for someone’s loss. I think that something we can all relate to. That feeling of guilt, even if it’s not warranted, and wanting to rid ourselves of via confession. Did you see other glimpses into the narrator in other poems that helped you put together a picture of them. It’s a challenge because they’re unreliable. But only adds to the overall puzzle, and fun of reading this collection.
“Annual” offers a calm reflection on life in my point of view, and, in a way, it mocks the art of the obituary while still applauding it at the same time. Does that even make sense? I’m not overly sure that there is guilt as much as an indication that the narrator finds that her words, the obituary’s words, are not enough. How can a faint paragraph express a person’s life? How can it be the ghost the leave behind? Like the lack of the full story when confronting the contents of the womb, Duncan exposes the lack many of us confront. Is it sad? One cannot know, for that judgment is reserved for the reader.
April and Steven:
Overall, we recommend reading this collection.