First published in Chiron Review.
Review of Don Carroll’s Forever Changed by Charles Ries
Like many first chap books of poetry, Don Carroll’s Forever Changed pays homage to the transformative power of words. In these poems you feel what we all felt the first time we discovered how healing and revealing poetry, prose, and writing in general can be. One senses Carroll standing wide-eyed in a candy shop bursting with poetic possibility. Indeed, no less then eleven of his poems in Forever Changed allude to writing poetry in some manner or another. And this is as it should be for a poet just getting his sea legs—for what else could he see but the intoxicating possibilities of WORDS. He expresses this in “The Introvert”: “So quiet / At times / The only way / To be heard / Is through observation. / Then / The pen / Comes into play and / Becomes the trademark.” And again in “Let The Critics Follow” where he says, “Because I know / My pen is my bodyguard, / It also protects me. / Even though / My shield is down, / It makes me tough as hell / When the line is set on fire / As a fiery lead on / For critics to follow / When reaching the end / to find it is hot.”
I asked Don how he found his way to poetry. “I have a high school education and I’ve worked as a forklift operator for almost 24 years. It wasn’t until I took a test in math and English at a local college that I was told I had strength with words. It was the first time I had heard this from a teacher. This in itself helped to propel me with a concrete direction I never had before. But the most significant factor was when I had my first bout with bi-polar disorder. I had to find a way to create some kind of strength out of the stigma that is attached to it. I found that creativity is a commonality among those with these illnesses. That’s what I needed to bridge the gap to being a normal individual.” He went on to tell me, “I then went through a process of reading poets who mainly used a lot of metaphors and such. When I found Whitman, I liked free verse and started to read more contemporary stuff and found one writer I could relate to, and his writing was so simple. That of course is Bukowski, and Bukowski became my heaviest influence.”
Free verse is the great equalizer for individuals new to poetry and looking for admission. It is poetry for the proletariat. What a gift! To discover in the work of writers like Whitman, Bukowski, Huffstickler and a bunch of others, a lexicon just like our own. A language in which we find a piece of ourselves.
Forever Changed is a solid, but sometimes underdeveloped first work and Don agrees, admitting, “to be quite honest, I have to become better at using the English language in the written form. I never thought punctuation and grammar would come into play. It sure did come back to haunt me. I may not be perfect yet, but I’m a lot further along now than I’ve ever been because of it.”
The muse is a tough mistress and as one moves forward, the importance of one word, where a line breaks, how a stanza is structured and the manner in which we treat a topic all become heightened. However, ignorance can also be a great freedom for a new poet who has not yet become lost in the rules of technique—ignorance can be bliss.
The beauty of Forever Changed is not the maturity of its prose, but the joy one feels in walking with Carroll through a first chap that celebrates his having found his writer’s voice and realizing he is different from those with whom he works and walks beside; he is an artist.
As he says in his poem, in “Twisted Fate”: “That’s why this has come to be. / And the challenge here, / Is to get better / When I put this together, / Because without it, / It take away the inspiration / To Get through every day life / Feel me for a change, / Whether it is white-collar / or blue-collar / I’m an independent / Making my own groove / That gives me an identity / To make me feel comfortable.” We welcome Carroll to the small press. Don, half of your journey is now over—the muse has found you. Now you must decide what you will make of her.
Plug Nickel Press
San Pedro, CA 90733
Paper, 32 poems