Review: In Cadence

In Cadence (2016) gathers about three dozen poems by C. Rodney Pattan and Lance B. Brender. Make that Col. Pattan amd Maj. Brender, as both poets are in the U. S. Army.

Col. Pattan, an OB/GYN physician, is Deputy Commander of Clinical Services at Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri, and the author of a novel, Uphill Against the Wind (2012). Maj. Lance Brender is G3 at the National Training Center in the Mojave Desert, and blogs occasionally.

Given the nature of Poets and War, I should point out that only four of the poems seem to me to be about some aspect of the military experience. Like the book’s other poems, these four are mostly impersonal, in that they are not about specific incidents or moments in the lives of the poets. I sense that both poets might consider too much personal detail to be immodest and self-indulgent.

The most pleasing aspects of In Cadence are its good will, benevolence, and freedom from narcissism. Nearly every poem is a thank-you card to someone — family members, teachers, coaches, former girlfriends, mentors, friends, and a dog.

For me, those pleasing qualities are more than enough to recommend the two authors as earnest, admirable, and likable people, if not necessarily enough to recommend the poetry qua poetry. Everyone’s taste in poetry is different — my poems are perhaps not to their taste, and these poems are not particularly to my own taste.

For many poetry readers, though, In Cadence might be right in the sweet spot. The poems are accessible, their sentiments are comfortable, and there are enough vestiges of traditional, pre-modern poetic practices to give a sense of elevated expression. Readers weary of internet flame wars and 2016 presidential campaign insults are probably more than ready for encomia and poems of thanks.

These poems are a pleasing reminder of happy times when many people wrote poetry without trying to make a career out of it, like amateur musicians who love playing and jamming for their intrinsic pleasures. No one needs an MFA in creative writing to write poetry, no matter what MFA programs say. When I was in Viet Nam, the Pacific edition of Stars and Stripes always ran one poem per issue by a service member, always alternating (without any apparent cognitive dissonance) between poems about happily serving a good cause in Viet Nam, and poems about being eager to get back to the states (especially girlfriends).

In Cadence is described as an annotated book, as each poem is prefaced by a note from the poet explaining the origin of the poem. I wish that more poets would comment on their own poems. These poems are not so complex as to need explication, and they do not have military terms and acronyms that need explanation, but the prefatory remarks do nicely humanize poems that otherwise might seem generic and abstract. The prefatory remarks are not so much guides for the reader’s understanding as they are guides to the reader’s enjoyment.

C. Rodney Pattan favors four beat lines, omits punctuation, avoids enjambment, and is not squeamish about occasionally wrenching syntax in service to rhyme. He likes to use unusual or archaic words, and favors abstraction over imagery (e.g. genius, courage, hearts, American Dream, beauty).

While his poems suggest Victorian and Edwardian antecedents, Pattan avoids the high rhetoric of those Rupert Brooke military abstractions that died in the WWI trenches, only to be resurrected for Iraq and Afghanistan (Warrior, The Fallen, Glory, Hero).

Lance B. Brender favors even shorter lines, creating a more casual, conversational and fragmented style. Some of his poems are light verse or children’s rhymes, one is somewhat evocative of Kipling’s ballads — this poem is ready to be adapted as a drinking song — and some poems are loosely haiku.

Both write predominantly in rhyme, sometimes with a tendency to let the rhyme pull rank on other poetic devices. Both employ the modern practice of having different rhyme schemes in different stanzas within one poem, a comfortable fluidity for nearly all contemporary readers.

I hope that in the future both poets experiment with longer lines, and I would be glad to read the results. Rodney Patten, I think, might enjoy discovering a greater musicality if he plays with longer lines and enjambment.

And while I am hoping, I hope that they both discover and enjoy as much as I do Stephen Fry’s The Ode Less Travelled, a pleasurable and unpretentious book — an instructive book and a whimsical book — that beautifully clarifies much about formal poetry.

In Cadence is available from Powells Books and Amazon.

Author: Stephen Sossaman

Stephen Sossaman is Professor Emeritus of English at Westfield State University in Massachusetts. He now lives in California. He was an artillery fire direction computer in Viet Nam, serving in the Mekong Delta (1/84th artillery, 9th Infantry Division).

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