Review: Falling Up

Jeff Fleming
Poetry
20 pages
5 ½“ x 8 ½“ chapbook
Nibble Press
Oakland, California USA
nibblepoems [at] gmail [dot] com
$3
Review originally published on 12/10/09


This short chapbook reads as one continuous poem divided into chapters, wherein one poem and title represents one full chapter, one move forward in the story of a strange almost-love, the pull of emotions in many directions, disjointed and sparse, leaving you to fill in the blanks with a romantic or tragic weaving of your choosing.

The book is very blue, right away it looks a sorrowful journey, featuring a girl with her hand on a window, looking at and almost touching spots of stars or lightning bugs or raindrops or a sci-fi stream of alien static. The characters inside are just as melancholy and spotted, as this could have easily been a set of poems inspired by the cover picture or one close to it; two wayward characters, equally as lost together or apart, finding each other and losing each other, as cryptic in their interactions as the poems are to us. You don’t know much about the characters, yet you feel you know them well or have seen them in the mirrors of lobbies and purse compacts or in the sordid affairs of neighbors and estranged lovers.

On the technical side, Fleming’s poems are very narrative, telling more than showing, lots of good similes, not too experimental, just very crisp and point-driven. And he knows how to give you an ending line. Here are a couple of my favorites:

From “Chapter Three: Here to Ride Me Home”:

[ … ]
Petra nods and begins
walking. Paolo follows
like a slow wake.

From “Chapter Six: Hiding Her Flesh”:

[ … ] rises
from the crippled
chair and tips
the cap
he isn’t wearing.

On the negative side, I’m not a fan of the entire book being in a slanted font with little serifs on every letter, as it didn’t look as polished as a cleaner, blockier font. It looked great for the titles, but didn’t set the titles apart as much. Another question arises with the presentation of a phantom “you” in the first couple poems, who is unnamed and later disappears. There are clearly two characters in this story we are following; we understand the “he” and the “she,” but then occasionally, the person shifts, and there is a random “you” thrown in. Someone I cannot pinpoint, and someone I don’t think is supposed to be there. Maybe a quick brush-up rewrite could edit this “person” out, although you might have to be an editor even to notice.

Jeff’s work subtly eats you. Nothing shouts abruptly here, but in the quietest way, Fleming gets under your skin to make you want to grab someone you love and not let go, as you figure out all the intricacies of being, tumbling through it, awkward and strange.