Poetry Review: Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal

Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal
By Robert Cooperman
Paperback, $5.00, 48 pp.Snark Publishing, 2004

Buy from Snark Publishing

Reviewed by Kathleen Cunningham Guler

This lively collection of narrative poetry is based on Scottish and English popular ballads. Each of the twenty-four poems is a story on its own and told from a different character taken from the older tales. The collection spans time from the medieval period to the golden age of piracy to the early nineteenth century. The themes of greed, lust, and revenge tie the stories together.

Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal is a like a small, tight-knit community whose members whisper their deepest, darkest secrets to the reader. Cooperman’s characters are revealed through his uncanny sculpturing of their most intimate thoughts. One of them, a narrator who has sent the Scottish shipmaster Sir Patrick Spense to sea in a winter storm and to his death, also exposes a raw streak of jealousy at the admiration Sir Patrick had enjoyed. “No Scotsman should be more adored than his king, not even Patrick, whom I loved like a son,” the jealous narrator mourns. Another character, Lord Baker, who has returned from the crusades, is in the middle of his wedding when a Turkish princess whom he fell in love with during his travels arrives with a knife as a gift. He pays off the woman he was to wed and marries the princess instead. On their wedding night he begs her forgiveness for having left her—she is still holding the knife. And then there is Lady Diamond. After her father has hanged Henry the kitchen boy for being her lover, the Lady demands he give her Henry’s heart in a box. Later, at her wedding to a viscount, she still has Henry’s heart with her—literally.

Robert Cooperman’s surprising, unorthodox poetry weaves a fine spell indeed. As in Lest the Spell Break Like Crystal, his storytelling can be found in a number of his critically acclaimed chapbooks and full-length collections, including A Tale of the Grateful Dead and In the Colorado Gold Fever Mountains, which won the Colorado Book Award in 2000.

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