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‘Dot’ Review: An Ode to the Everyday

4 Stars

Cover of Ron Padgett's "Dot."
Cover of Ron Padgett's "Dot." By Courtesy of Coffee House Press
By Aiden J. Bowers, Crimson Staff Writer

“Dot” finds its voice in simplicity. The latest poetry collection from Pulitzer Prize finalist Ron Padgett imbues the mundane with whimsy, treating the human experience with a fantastical salve of literary and poetic devices. Language, coming-of-age narratives, relationships, loss, and even grief are folded into the foray of everyday encounters with an almost otherworldly twist. Padgett takes great care of the little things, portraying normal life — including incredible highs and devastating lows — with a thoughtful and magical lens, creating a quick read that is sure to put a smile on any reader’s face.

Bright and imaginative verse and prose can too often become disjointed in their otherworldliness; “Dot” deftly circumvents this pitfall, with cohesive themes and repetitive motifs throughout the collection. While the subject matter hops from Padgett’s frustrations with the spelling of “forty” to keeping mice out of a room to the loss of his mother, his consistent stylistic choices keep the book grounded without stifling his creative freedom. Common fantastical imagery rings true in each separate work. He plays with size, for example, in “At Benny the Bungalow,” where “the sandwich started to grow bigger and bigger,” and in “Geometry of the Sandwich,” where he laments the difference of slices in a sandwich to be “so small as to be useless in the great rush of life.” Simultaneously, the observable world anchors Padgett’s whimsy, finding comfort in earthy, yet not necessarily natural experiences like “a bird opening its breast to air” or “my face … mashed into wet concrete.” Even the title itself creates a cohesive motif: Much like a small dot on a large canvas, “Dot” enhances the smallest moments with a sort of reverent fantasy — no experience is too small or too mundane.

Structurally, "Dot" is equally immersive. The prosaic, free-verse style of much of the collection at times resembles spoken word, and plays a key role in developing the overarching themes of dissecting and appreciating everyday events, providing a structural parallel to the subject matter of the poems. Even through the illusion of more traditional poetic style, like in “Sonnet (Thunk),” which is in sonnet form, complete with the characteristic “volta,” the poetry remains grounded in its down-to-earth, free style. This departure from the structural norm further glorifies the mundanities of day to day existence, while providing refreshing variety to the collection. Padgett takes this breath of life one step further with interesting and exciting variability in the length of the poems, as well as interspersed passages of prose that create a dynamic pace when paired with the already quite prosaic poetry that fills the pages. Though the work is comforting, it’s an ode, not a lullaby — this read is a page turner.

The real magic of the collection stems from its ability to fully immerse the reader in a fantastical yet familiar world; sometimes, however, this suspension of disbelief is challenged. Nearly insurmountable quantities of allusions don’t allow the reader too much leisure; periodically, an unfamiliar name or reference requires an explanation outside the material. This cycle of “read, research, repeat” can get exhausting for many, though the trudge is worth it to experience the world of words that Padgett creates between these brightly-colored covers.

“Dot” provides a fulfilling and immersive experience from cover to cover and somehow still manages to leave readers wanting more. The unique combination of the intrigue of fantasy and the relatability of the unexceptional creates a poetic experience that enraptures, perplexes, and amuses. Padgett finds the innate beauty in every otherwise forgettable experience, which culminates in a wonderfully human collection with a convincing message to take life slow and appreciate the depth of emotion to be found in the little things.

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