Bastard Heart by Raphael Dagold
Silverfish Review Press, 2014; 67 pp
Reviewed by Mark Allen Jenkins


Like any well-crafted poetry collection, Bastard Heart offers several possible topics and themes for a reviewer to zero in on: family, nature, place. Also, many poems in this collection involve a speaker interacting with his surroundings, whether literally or imaginatively.

The opening poem “Season of Burning Leaves,” is a search for inspiration in the everyday, “He is looking for something perfect / in the vacant lot full of voices.” Yet, in this poem of objects, nothing seems to meet his approval, “I am still perfect, says a half marble / bedded in dirt. What Isn’t?” Faces appear everywhere in the personified landscape, the poem’s “he” tells us: “eyes of the sweet smell / of locus leaves eaten by oxygen. // Let’s go, says the head. Let’s go.” This sets the collection’s mood, as many poems grapple with an internalized struggle.

“Wild Flies” opens with a speaker imagining himself in a swarm of insects, longing to reset and relearn tactile sensations, “sometimes he wishes he were he could learn everything again.” Instead of horror or revulsion at the experience, he wants to smell “what the crawling bugs / smell,” but after the initial sensations, acknowledge “everyone forgets / that he already can’t remember / what he knows.”

A poem like “January 1995,” is a localizing of what otherwise might seem like a distant event, Russia’s war with Chechnya: “For weeks they’ve bombed the capital, for weeks / I’ve hesitated writing of the face / on television more like mine.” The speaker connects his own likeness to a soldier, a kind of uncanniness that “has nothing / to do with flesh, has everything to do with blood” and further connects him with the displaced in earlier eras.

Raphael Dagold’s debut grants many turns and surprises in language and topic, something I always appreciate when reading a poetry collection.