Still Clinging to My Skin

by Paul Benza,
ISBN: 0887533116

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Brief Reviews - Poetry
by Rob McLennan

In Still Clinging to My Skin (Black Moss Press, 72 pages, $16.95 paper), Windsor-based Paul Benza's first poetry collection, lines step exactly where they should-in careful, and sometimes far too deliberate, moves. This is a good collection of poems on family and the little moments that together make up a life. Many of the poems themselves are quiet and don't lift themselves above where the more-than-good ones exist:

There is a hat in my closet

I no longer wear.

Nestled on a high shelf,

it belongs on the head of my childhood.

("The Hat In My Closet")

Benza doesn't really progress beyond the sentiment expressed in the first stanza-the kernel being how we all have things to remember, and to leave behind. The poem simply expands a bit, and contracts, giving pause to wonder at the purpose of two more stanzas to say the same thing.

Other pieces in the collection have some fine moments, although the book as a whole could have used some careful editing. Listen to a line from "Making Angels": "All night snow has fallen/like white laughter-". I mean, that's beautiful! Or "Fear of Falling", about a window-cleaner who sees his own reflection "a hundred times a day", and has better things to worry about than gravity taking over:

Fear of falling? Not this man.

His fears are thirty storeys below.

He fears his wife unfaithful again;

or his pregnant-at-fifteen daughter. Another fine piece is "In Somalia", a short, densely-packed image of parents as they dig the grave of their child who has died of starvation.

It's misleading to suggest that Benza has moments of making the ordinary extraordinary. Instead, he is occasionally able to realize and translate the brilliance that already exists in ordinary life, and to put the beauty of familiarity into the shape of a poem. Ordinary presumes banal, and when Benza is on, he's far from ordinary. Unfortunately, he's not far from it often enough.

A fine but uneven first collection, the grains may outweigh the chaff, but they aren't able to keep you from forgetting that the chaff is there, or wondering why. 

rob mclennan


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