James Fountain The Last Stop
A common line of advice given to poets building a chapbook manuscript is to stick to a single mood and unifying theme. In this, James Fountain has done an impressive job in his chapbook Last Stop. The mood is melancholy, and the theme is loss; familiar bedfellows to each other and to most fans of poetry. By the time the reader gets several poems in, it is abundantly clear Dr. Fountain knows well of which he writes.
Flying over Basrah
and thinking of her,
the smile she wore
a few hours before.
a kiss remembered,
the sound of rain,
lying beside her again.
—from Flying Over Basrah.
This is but one example of the emotion the poems’ speaker expresses and reflects on in the poems in the three sections of The Last Stop, Away, Home, and The Last Stop.
The feelings of sadness, longing for a lost love, and that loss are powerful and palpable throughout, but what first struck me as I read Dr. Fountain’s poems was the importance of place in his poetry. At several points I very much became enmeshed in the settings of the poems, and while—as with most writers—the senses of sight and hearing are most-commonly used in his poems, Dr. Fountain does such good work in description and word choices that I could feel the temperature outside his speaker’s window, smell the air where his speaker was walking. The world the poems’ speaker inhabits becomes the reader’s, and for this, I greatly admire the skill Dr. Fountain exhibit in the best works in The Last Stop.
Terms such as “best works” are troublesome when dealing with art, since we do not share a common reference by which to judge the works we are examining. I questioned my choice of “best” vs. “favorite” works before writing this review. In every case the poems which I enjoyed the most in The Last Stop seem to me to be the most unique, most well-developed pieces from this book. These poems feature phrasing and line breaks that show very realized and careful intent on Dr. Fountain’s part and the pieces have left deep seeds in my memory which will remain for a good while. These are also mostly poems found in the book’s first and longest section, Away. The places and those who populate the places of which the author writes are given life.
Section II, Home, is comprised of a long three-part poem full of memories and ruminations with some admirable uses of poetic devices, but the overall impact of this section is dampened by instances of overused terms and clichés and, while I admire what seems to be Dr. Fountain’s goal of this piece, it ultimately falls flat for me, as his observations are not as novel as perhaps he feels they are. For as unique a vision the reader is rewarded with in section I, Away, Home comes off as a bit heavy-handed and disappointing.
The third section, The Last Stop, is three short poems full of loss and longing, and we come full-circle in this book’s mood and theme.
From my small room’s skylight comes the
blue, faint streak of cloud crossing it.
As my eye wanders, I lie in early
morning, conscious that you could see
that sky from the other side of the world,
three hours ahead, but devoid of cloud.
And how I wish I could see you
as it does, whenever it likes, lazily.
In my re-reading of The Last Stop I carefully considered the progression of Dr. Fountain’s skills as a poet. Of course, I have no insight on when which poems were written, some perhaps years ago, some maybe days before the manuscript went to press. In that, some may have been revised numerous times and others may have been hot off his pen. I get the sense that some of the poems in this book are better-realized, better-revised, and simply better reads than others.
Overall there is real merit in what Dr. Fountain offers readers, especially in his poems featuring setting and other people, mainly those poems found in his first section Away. His powers of description are worthy of praise. His ruminations and loneliness, his statements of melancholy and discontent, featured mainly in sections II and III of The Last Stop, don’t seem to come off quite so well in comparison.