“CRASH,” by Louis Gallo

Louis Gallo

Reviewed by Aaron Lee Moore

Louis Gallo’s latest collection of cerebral poetry, CRASH, lives up to its title as a thrilling, haunting, and emotionally undulating read. The cover of the book announces its overall theme well—an intriguing black and white photo capturing the pinnacle of a wave as it crashes upon shoreline rocks with the title highlighted in red. Inspired in part by the poet’s harrowing experience surviving a horrific car crash in which he broke six ribs and his right shoulder, and was knocked unconscious, the author’s diverse assortment of stanzaic and prose poetry rises like a phoenix from the ashes of his own personal adversity and suffering. About a fourth of the collection (18 poems) under the heading of “Crash: A Sequence of Variations” addresses the car crash and process of recovery specifically, while the remainder vary widely in subject matter. In the prose poem “Reindeer” under this heading, the poet’s vivid description of his “blurred” recollections of the recovery while on painkillers is particularly memorable:

Because all I have are tiny bits and pieces, a blurred pastiche. And every now and then you recall a new delicious detail—when you came back from the bathroom and I, wide-eyed and startled, informed you that a reindeer had bitten my elbow. Then I lapsed once more into cloud-cuckoo land, a pleasant enough place for the not quite dead.

These poems, many of which dive into existential, Buddhist, and Taoist philosophy, straddle the line between the universally accessible and the academic. For example, in “Guests” the poet attempts to humanize some of the greatest Western thinkers of the past in which he envisions inviting Aristotle, Socrates, Freud, and Thoreau (each separately) over to his home for dinner with his attractive wife while the speaker poses critical questions and the two then engage in spirited debate: “I asked him what he thought about / Leon Edel’s scathing essay / that debunked the whole Walden myth. / Thoreau shrugged, “Who’s Leon Edel?” The didacticism of these poems is counterbalanced by the delectable attention paid to savory meals served by the poet’s beautiful young wife: “My wife was busy preparing a great / Southern meal—grits, grillades, / fried catfish, shrimp remoulade.”

Though the collection is festooned by classical Greek and Roman allusions, many poems focus on day-to-day typical situations and characters rendered in simple diction, as in “Cleaning Lady”: “I often envy her, simple, easy / work…unlocking doors, dumping trash, / feathering the shelves—no torturous thought / to it however physically arduous.” Another down-to-earth poem is “On the Walk,” in which the poet narrates a humorous and profound exchange with a toddler on a walking trail:

He rushed up to me as we approached

each other and declared, “ I was born

in 2010!”

I looked him in the eye, smiled, and replied,

“So was I!”

The tyke’s face went concave, his eyes

bulged, his jaw dropped. “You were?”

Oh, the fiendish taken by surprise.

I wanted to explain to him that every day

is our birthday, that each day we rise anew,

that each night we die and each day

is therefore also our deathday,

that in a thousand years, maybe a hundred

none of this will matter and we’ll all

be forgotten.

In sum, Louis Gallo has gifted us some wonderfully brainy yet accessible poems with this fine collection—a golden artistic testament of human endurance and resilience.

Gallo was born and raised in New Orleans and now teaches at Radford University in Virginia. His poems, plays and essays have appeared widely, including Wide Awake in the Pelican State (LSU anthology), Glimmer Train, storySouth, Texas Review, Missouri Review, New Orleans Review, Oregon Literary Review, Thema, Raving Dove and many others. Two chapbooks are scheduled for publication soon, The Truth Changes and The Abomination of Fascination.

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