Thoughts I Left Behind
by William H. Roetzheim
Level 4 Press, Inc.,
This debut book of poetry by prize-winning poet William Roetzheim takes a look at life, death, and religion. The collection explores the themes of growing up and growing old. It contains over one hundred poems and is complemented by more than thirty illustrations.
The book opens with a short poem that offers a warm and personal welcome to the reader as the poet invites him or her to pull up a chair and receive the assurance that "I've waited / all my life to share some thoughts with you." The poems that follow, however, are often harsh or pessimistic and contrast sharply in tone with the opening invitation. Indeed, the very next entry in the collection depicts new Navy recruits as lost and childish souls who "rattle sabers" and "diaper the ragheads who were less than animals." It grimly makes allusion to Tennyson's "do and die" and employs some unusual and powerful imagery: "A sea of green / with gobbling sheen of pink that bobbed in time / to stomping feet and ribald songs of whores..."
There are also more quiet and tender offerings, such as the poem "Stretch Marks," where the lines that mark the speaker's wife are referred to as "subtle decorations" that "seem to spell our love, / our family, our thirty years together."
Just as the tone of the poems vary, so do the forms. Many of the poems are free verse, unrhymed yet occasionally rhythmic. Others are written in traditional forms. Among the traditional offerings is a fairly impressive villanelle, "Beware of 'Friends.'" The collection likewise contains several sonnets, including a modernized, somewhat vulgar response to William Shakespeare's sonnet CXXXVIII. Other such replies follow the same thematic vein in the special section "More Responses to the Dead," which the well-read poetry lover will probably enjoy. We get to hear a business man's sardonic response to a Walt Whitman poem and a modern virgin's reply to Robert Herrick, among others.