If you turn around I will turn around by Ben Clark
Thoughtcrime Press, 2015; 52 pp
Reviewed by Danielle Susi


Ben Clark’s second collection of poetry, if you turn around I will turn around, makes us a promise from the start. Embellished with intermittent images of the phases of the moon, without even glancing at the text we know that this book will draw us into the cycle.

The collection combines a number of stylistically different poems, some more traditionally linear, and others, like “just a small hard seed,” fill more physical space on the page in the manner of a prose poem. In this poem, we note more of that cyclic imagery: “My first solo trip in Willow a storm / caught me full sail in shallow water, and I avoided damage by circling.” (5-6)

While the reader cannot assume that this circling to avoid damage is meant to escape something or return to it, Clark’s poems are firm and declarative, saying “we did this in this way and that’s how it was.”

In these simple, elegant poems, Clark’s speakers have something to prove. In “accident apnée” Clark writes: “I decided to go deeper though / you were convinced I wouldn’t / have the lungs for it” (1-3). And we see this pattern again and again in the collection—the doubt placed on the speaker that the speaker must then overcome.

Clark’s poems are concerned, too, with the vessel. In “fever and me are old friends,” he writes “You know I dream of boats, some buoyant, some left behind” (5) and we learn that Willow, a specific boat, has played a significant role throughout the collection. This preoccupation with vessels—both boats and bodies—becomes a signifier of release or of carrying over/through a threshold. Here, the threshold may be the mourning of the dead or the loss of a lover. In this way, the reader, too, is brought carefully from one place—that place feeling deeply dark and cold like vacant clearings in the moonlight—and delivered to another.