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Summer 2016 - Book Review by Charles Rammelkamp
"Overdrive Hills"

Overdrive Hills
by Gordon Purkis
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2016
$7.95, 56 pages
ISBN: 978–1523398904

Gordon Purkis' Overdrive Hills is a collection of love poetry in the tradition of the troubadours — melancholy, intense, passionate, full of the awareness of the fleeting nature of love, which in turns makes the poet even more disconsolate. The paradox, of course, is that the consolations of the beloved are the very source of the feelings of despondency and misery.

You can hear the despair in the first three lines of the poem, "Before words":

     My want for you is before words,
     comes before anything I can or can't
     get my hands on.

Tortured by the evanescence of sensation, the poet recognizes the utter futility of words, but what does he have to express his desire and devotion but words? "Lost for words" is another poem that expresses this dilemma:

     What can I do about your perfect
     shape? Nothing but kiss it, everywhere,
     all your round, soft, smooth parts,
     separate pieces that make one whole

Memory is likewise inadequate to the task, we see in "Bring me your love":

     I can remember the texture of your body —
     the resistance your skin gave or lack thereof,
     in response to my inflections,
     the pressure with which my lips pressed against
     every part of it, each round adventurous corner.

Dream, like memory, is also futile, as we read in "Her sexy parts":

     When you don't know what to do
     there's one thing you can do
     and that's nothing — nothing but
     dream about her and her sexy parts.

This despair comes through again and again, as in the poem "Moments":

     How do you leave her there,
     a silken body bare to you,
     without running your finger down
     her back....

"How do you kiss her enough?" he asks later in the same poem. In the poems "Parts" and "Pieces of you" the poet attempts to isolate and preserve and then to recombine, in memory and verse, the sheer physical parts of the beloved:

     How do you love a body, one body,
     a wholeness seemingly elusive,
     despite all the separate fragments
     seen and unseen, those you can
     touch and those you can't? ("Parts")

     starting with toes
     continuing with ankles
     then calves
     belly button
     breasts.... ("Pieces of you")

But fixing these things in dream, memory and words is ultimately futile, as the poet ruefully notes later in "Pieces of you":

     There is no substitute for touch.

Ultimately, the image of the elusive beloved reaches an apotheosis in a sort of spiritual vision that collapses time and sensation, as in the poem "Guide":

     ...you shine
     by your own light
     not mine
     and that you are my guide
     the ephemeral and eternal,
     your voice like liquid grace
     pouring over my skin.

A number of poems in Overdrive Hills focus naturally on the melancholy feeling itself that is brought on by the yearning for the beloved, as seen in the very titles of "This lost feeling," "A starvation," "A Knowing" ("Is it OK to be sad? Yes."), "Managing the blues," "All wrong," "This separation," "The forgotten," "Your definite absence," etc.

Ultimately, the completion or satisfaction of the love impulse comes in a vision, in the final poem of Overdrive Hills called "All the days and nights," whose very title echoes Emily Dickinson's famous poem, "Wild Nights," both in title and sense ("Wild nights — Wild nights!/ Were I with thee / Wild nights should be / Our luxury!"):

     Neat fingers
     fit inside
     neat fingers.

     Her perfection,
     his addiction.

     His poison,
     her obsession.

     A touch like an electric explosion.

     All the days and nights are not enough.
     Only an eternity together will set their souls free.


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