A Review of Almost Full, a poetry collection by Don Schaeffer
Written by David Fraser
In Almost Full Don Schaeffer, self-proclaimed phenomenologist shows us with his senses
the realities and appearances of life. He is a keen observer of the human condition,
minimally measuring out his words in short concise spurts.
The opening poem "Next Few Weeks" sets the tone with the opening line "She's gonna want to die".
Short poems, no longer than a page unassumingly capture the poet's observations about himself and
others, those who are waiting to die, characters who experience loss, have regrets, and feel
things are slipping away. Schaeffer's landscape is the public bus, the streets, possibly the
hospital or the retirement home where he and the people he observes reflect on life and their
process through it.
Almost Full, as a title, conjures up images of a full life, the glass almost
full rather than the glass gradually emptying. We get the sense even though there is
slipping, sputtering, fading away and dying, that everyone to some degree and especially
the poet has a feeling of satisfaction of having lived an almost full existence.
The individual in the first poem is doing the arithmetic, weighing the pros and cons,
waiting for the final announcement of her death. There is a captured resignation here,
and a sense of the inevitable. In other poems this foregone conclusion exists.
In "Unregeneracy" the narrator sees himself going back into the earth, a part
of the earth, snow, water spray lit by the sun. In "Social" the narrator says,
"I will be nothing and you will be all," after describing how the spider
is cannibalized by her offspring, and how the salmon perishes after spawning,
giving her body to the greater nutrient pool. In "Fading Sept-Embers" the poet
observes nature tightening up in the cooler nights and brief days of autumn with
winter approaching and the reader can't help thinking of the obvious metaphor
and its cycles toward eventual death. In "Original Felony" the narrator
is harassed by the neighbour's dogs as if he were an interloper, feels
he is being stalked by the police who are forensically scraping paint samples from his car as if
he is hiding from a hit and run accident. He says, "Crime is like a dark looming/choice. I fear,
I crave/the fire and ice, the real place,/with the strong men/who can take my breath".
Here "fire and ice" connect to the famous Robert Frost poem, "Fire and Ice",
where Frost questions how the world will end. Schaeffer in his narrator's paranoia
and sense of entrapment has a similar duality, one of fear and craving for the final destination.
In "Portals" we see the entrances and the exits, the tunnels, worm holes in space,
the tunnels of the inner ear, and the tunnel of the birth canal. Maybe there is a desire
for an exit tunnel. In "Passover" with its historical religious connections we see a need
for the narrator to return to his roots. Schaeffer says, "Now I want to go back to Pharaoh."
Don Schaeffer observes phenomena around him, "watching silently with eyes wide". He sees simple
things such as breakfast expectations of a bagel and cream cheese on bagel day, a response to a
happy poem posted on the bus, teenage girls not only absorbing their music but also absorbed in
the singers, young gothic-attired riders on a late night bus, Joyce, his companion described in
poignant tender terms, an old woman meticulously folding her transfer and cozily placing it in her
purse in a special pocket patted safe by her hand. He sees himself or a persona of himself in a
life race as in a marathon, running for survival, pushing on to the point where things unravel
and the "strings of (his) life" can't be pulled back together. In "Smells" after describing the
process of cooking for his lover sees himself as vulnerable, standing "at the frying pan on a
translucent bridge over a trans-substantial ravine."
In many of the poems there is a sense of this vulnerability, and disconnection.
He says in one title that there is "static in my love song". In "Missing Dr. Rosenblatt"
familiar things as in a dream are slipping away. The main street is "the gathering place
of litter", the concession truck outside the hospital is there one minute with the smell of hamburger
but there is no meat; the server turns away; it is dark and the truck is gone. In "Just Five Years"
we see the narrator in seclusion, "I was at the corner of my own eye/a flicker of dark motion in the
ice at the end of parking lots" and he wonders about "these odd, quiet lives".
On other occasions Schaeffer uses the metaphor of the stage, and in fact the reality of the stage
for a performer. In "Night of the Stars" the performer is in the spotlight vulnerable to the whoops
of the audience and he concludes, "Art is an embarrassing striptease". In "My Epic" with its ironic
title, we move from the camera's view of seeing the wide angle spanning the earth then narrowing to
city, and to street, or from the sweep of the planet to a stage set and finally to the entire house,
the house as in home or the house as in theatre, worn down to "one crowded corner". It really is this
narrow crowded corner that most of us live our "almost full" lives. In "Losin'" life is compared to
a quiz show and the big buzzer dramatically signifies the wrong answer. Finally in "Thoughts on Mountains"
the poet concludes, "The world is/tinker toy models in my mind./ What I know and try is real/and I have
seen and made the mountains".
Almost Full by Don Schaeffer is a good read. You'll digest these poems many times
and go back and forth, make connections and start to look at observations, Schaeffer's visions,
and your own. The surface has only just been scratched. There are many secrets left.
Almost Full (2006)
By Don Schaeffer
Owl Oak Press
101 Calle de Quien Sabe,
Carmel Valley, CA 93924
was born in the Bronx, N.Y. in 1940. He holds a Ph.D.
in Social Psychology from City University of New York (1975).
Recent poetry has been published in The Writers Publishing, Burning Effigy Press,
Understanding Magazine and Quills, Ascent Aspirations, Lilly Lit, Tryst
and others. Don lives in Winnipeg, Canada with his wife of 40 years, Joyce.
Email: Don Schaeffer
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