Absinthe Literary Review, Book Reviews Spring 2002
B O O K   R E V I E W

Winter 2004

The Lakes of Coma by Michael S. Begnal

The Lakes of Coma
Michael S. Begnal
Six Gallery Press
Geneva, OH
67 pp. $9.00

Emily Dickinson once wrote, “If I read a book [and] it makes my whole body so cold no fire can ever warm me, I know that is poetry.”

It's hard to get particularly heated up or iced by Michael Begnal's new collection, The Lakes of Coma. It would probably be accurate to say it will give rise to a similar lukewarm sensation in any prospective reader. While the self-conscious voice of one Begnal poem might cause you to roll your eyes, the next shows a gleam of apt imagery or an interesting construction of thought; while one reeks of immaturity, another smells of life's true odors. Still, it's hard to get excited over a hit and miss experience. Poetry is nothing like baseball, where hitting one out of three is a fine and acceptable percentage. To stretch the comparison to  The Lakes of Coma: Begnal hits a double or two, no home runs, and a number of  solid singles but also many fouls and an embarrassing number of outright strikeouts.

His utilization of a relatively minimalist style doesn't help his case much—though his rhythm does tends to bog whenever his lines get too laden, so muscling it up isn't necessarily the answer.  What is?

This poet probably needs to wade into something more substantial than his own head and a few limp experiences. Maybe a few hundred volumes of classic poetry, whether they be Surrealist, Romantic, metered, free-form, and/or other. This is, of course, excellent advice for any and all poets but especially for those currently struggling at the plate. Poetry is so much more than the simple transmission of thought and appearances. 

We're sure that Begnal is aware of this, and it is our sincere hope that he can break out of this inconsistent streak in the near future.