The Geometry of Loneliness

Lee Passarella

Cincinnati: David Roberts Books, 2007.

103 pages. Paperback: $17.00, ISBN # 1-933456-39-6.


Reviewed by Tom Hunley



In “Magnetic North,” the sixth poem in Lee Passarella’s second book, the poem’s speaker overhears a college student making an unusual complaint: a professor has asked her to write a paper that is no more than two pages long, and she doesn’t see how she can condense her vast knowledge into such a short space. She wonders, “Like, how can you get Socrates / and Plato and the Skeptics and the Sophists / in two pages?” The poem is set at University of South Florida, in St. Petersburg, and by the end of the poem, the sight of a dolphin fifty feet away renders her speechless, watching the creature until “he spilled back into that cold / magnetic pole he inhabited, / the places where words aren’t wanted.”

In poem after poem, Passarella reminds me of that student. In these poems, a tension exists between the lecturer’s urge to pass on his considerable erudition and the poet’s awareness that, in Octavio Paz’s words, “The poem is the passage from one silence to another – between the desire to say and the silence that unites desire and saying.”

Reading Passarella, at times I think of those national spelling bee contestants on ESPN. If one of them grows up to be a poet, he might write something like Passerella, ready and willing to use words like skiff, glakèd, fermata, gamba, lepidopterous, beryl, gourami, and fumaroles. The man’s got a heck of a vocabulary. Also on display in this book is his wide knowledge of diverse subjects ranging from German composers, Italian painters, early-American sculptors, tenets of medieval Catholicism, Islamic angels, and classic Hollywood films.

But what keeps me engaged in Passarella’s poems are the moments where he reaches to the edges of where words can go, just beyond the shores of his or anyone’s knowledge: a light in the woods that “lies in widely / constellated coins / the perfect shape / of last year’s leaves” (“Relativity”), the echoes of water falling against rocks (“The Leap”), new oak leaves that haunt streetlights (“New Oak Leaves”), and “the notes [that] refuse to unfold, / to share their mystery / under fingers that go / their own way” (“The Keyboard an Instrument of Penance”).


HUNLEY.JPGBook review editor Tom C. Hunley is an assistant professor of English at Western Kentucky University and the director of Steel Toe Books . His latest books are Teaching Poetry Writing: A Five-Canon Approach and Octopus .