The poems in Roland Prevost’s first full-length collection explore a contemporary experience of alienation. This theme is exemplified in the title of the collection, Singular Plurals, and through recurrent scenes where the speaker experiences a sense of isolation in a public space. The speaker is capable of recognising and acknowledging others but only as a backdrop to their life.
In poems such as “Who Later Cannot” individuals become icons: “Joe drink coffee / Kev check time / Ella bite sandwich / Kristin blab cellphone”. In these poems people from the speaker’s past do not retain an identity but merely become “so many” names and actions. Time and time again the speaker fails to connect with the other, rendering them faceless figures representative of a time and place:
This experience also manifests itself in the present.
Steam rises slow from
a white coffee mug the smiling waitress tops up
Still only two minutes since
our final words, now hanging over.
Your chair’s body heat dissipates
ex p o n e n t i a l
Here the speaker is left alone and yet the melancholic feeling comes less from the absence of the other than from the speaker’s alienation from the present moment. The waitress melds with the coffee mug, the heat dissipates from the chair, “exponential” is physically elongated on the page and the “over-melodious radio voice” in the background becomes a disembodied drone. Here the speaker tries to form an impression of the moment but fails to do so as the moment has already been passed through. An interesting twist on this theme occurs in poems like “Al-Andalus Sun” and “Rotoscope,” where the speaker doesn’t fail to make a connection but rather connects with the absence of others.
While there is a sense of alienation in human interaction, Prevost finds grounding in the natural world. In “What Neocortex Sky Enfolds” there is again an inability to recognise others as “each willing face sees itself as action figurine” but fails to acknowledge “a homeless hat & hand.” Yet there is hope in the way “Earth’s mantle plates tremble and grind. / As usual.” These two lines, prefaced by the symbols for alpha and omega, beginning and end, compliment the individual’s isolation by involving them in an ongoing cycle which suggests that our very presence implicitly unites us.
This is a simple concept, as are many of those in Prevost’s poems, but it is in his use of language and image that his poems find their weight. Prevost has a knack for playing on our expectations of language to heighten the image as he does in “There Came a Knocking,” “Aposable Thumb,” “night vision” and “dishes & signals.” Here he contrasts the natural with the industrial to create a sense of dissonance paired with a surreal beauty: winter solstice and “hypnotized tinfoil”; “each honeycomb apartment”; the hum of cicadas and “the microwave tower”. This play on language is also where Prevost’s weaker poems tend to falter. Sometimes a line seems trite (“sunsets sink suburbs”), or the poem itself too dissonant, as in “What a car thinks”. These shortfalls are few and far between, however, and at the end of the collection readers are asked to consider how they interact with the space they inhabit. Are the people around us of substance? Or merely set pieces for our lives? And, if the latter is true, are we worse off?
Nina Jane Drystek is a poet, short story and non-fiction writer from Ottawa, Canada. She works in social media for the Ottawa Writers Festival and other literary organisations in Ottawa and serves coffee. Her poetry published by In/Words Magazine and Window Cat Press, and has self-published two chapbooks.
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