rev. of Good Hope Road by Stuart Dischell

Issue #60
Spring 1993

Good Hope Road 
Poems by Stuart Dischell. Viking, $20.00 cloth. Reviewed by Joyce Peseroff.

While fretting over “environmental destruction,” an old man faces his own mortality. A woman waiting for a tow truck wishes she were older or younger, “that what she had been / Waiting for all her life would finally begin to happen.” A supermarket manager resists broadcasting family problems “as if he were announcing a special on Fig Newtons.” In his wise and empathetic first book, poet Stuart Dischell, through a variety of portraits and dramatic monologues, parses these singular voices from the sentence of human desire, illustrating how, as Michel de Montaigne wrote, “each man bears the entire form of man’s estate.”

Dischell teases secrets from everyday speech through scenes that begin with the ordinary and end in epiphany. Here is the would-be hero of “The Genius,” who daydreams about pulling children from a fiery bus (or rescuing the Nobel committee): “. . . He feels he should have saved / His father from creditors and suicide / At fifty. ‘Dad,’ he says as he prizes / The old man’s coffin, ‘skeletons come alive.’ ” Just as the child’s voice erupts in the poem’s final lines, dependence and loss emerge from repression. Dischell knows how to put quirks of language to narrative use, as when the speaker in “The Bulletin Board” refers to his ex-girlfriend as “the other her.” His accurate ear cherishes the voice of the storyteller while respecting the narratives people forge to frame their lives. When one of two buddies named Jerry appropriates the other’s story, all hell breaks loose: “. . . at parties where neither is invited / Discussions break into fisticuffs and furniture / Gets smashed.”

“Good Hope Road: America remains in your phrasing,” Dischell writes in the collection’s title poem, its homage to Whitman qualified by evidence that nowadays the open road also leads to the used car lot. More genial than cynical, Stuart Dischell’s poems acknowledge the cramp of each individual’s narrow place in the world. As the character in “Buddies” whose story is usurped tells his wife, “In the scheme of things / Our lives are a joke and we Jerrys are its comedians.”

Joyce Peseroff coordinates Phone-a-Poem for Ploughshares.
Her most recent book of poetry, A Dog in the Lifeboat,
was published by Carnegie Mellon University Press.