The Bob and Weave by Jim Peterson
Red Hen Press, 2006
Jenny Minniti- Shippey


The "bob and weave," described by Ken Winokur in the preface to Jim Peterson"s latest collection of poetry, refers to a specific movement in a fight, as a fighter evades his opponent"s attack (the bob) and counters, closing to strike (the weave). Winokur remarks, "the ‘bob and weave" is a movement best used against a hook but which can be used against a straight punch." Peterson doesn"t pull any punches in this collection, casting a clear eye over both the external and internal landscapes of the mind.

The language is straightforward and restrained, whether describing the "cold roots of originality," or the feeling expressed by the opening poem, "I drink / and I try to remember the words." In the second section of the collection, "Fields of Red Clay," Peterson pays homage to his mentor, James Dickey, writing of him, "Is it only the dead who can dwarf a door / while the rest of us swirl around him;" to Walt Whitman—"the old man grappling with something / in the earth beneath him;" to his omnipresent father in the title poem: "In your house I learned love / and suspicion, as if they were one."

The subject of his father becomes a motif throughout the collection; Peterson acknowledges the heroic figure from his childhood—"You pointed and shouted / over the noise, and slowly, because you insisted, / walls rose up from the earth"—illuminates the infidelities—"My father would come home from work and keep his tie on at the table because he was going back out again"—and grieves as his father dies—"It"s August again, / and if I could run for you / I guess I would."

The clarity and physicality of the language heightens in the more externally focused poems of the third section, "The Convex Face." Images as rich and precise as mountains "bathed again and again / in the scattering shrieks of hawks" give way to statements like "when two people who have know each other for too long / turn for the first time from their dreams of each other / to each other," offered with the same authority and distance. There is a sense in the language of a speaker who is at once part of the natural world and separated from it—"I study this day." The poems are charged with energy and eroticism; a horse"s lip becomes "a young man dallying with his lover"s blouse;" mortality is acknowledged with "the eyes which have known / the sweet sprawl of your limbs on the sheet / will disappear like raindrops into the earth." In each poem lingers a sweet bitterness, an awareness of the transience inherent in the beauty of the things of this earth.

The fourth section, "The Necessity of Evil," includes poems with a strong narrative element. A prose poem, "Number One Fighter," renews the image of the "bob and weave," creating a dramatic and tense world in which unwilling fighters battle for their lives. Many of the poems in this section have a similar element. In each poem, the language wrestles with itself, linebreaks increasing the suspense and tension, as in: "Yes, you are grateful and afraid / you will have years of nights // in which to sleep." Although in some poems, the speaker is "tired of being afraid all the time," in others, Peterson candidly admits that "courage / means to wait for whatever comes." A great deal of the tension in this section, and throughout the collection, is in Peterson's attention to silence, and what can disturb or energize the silence: "but wait, the snow still squeaks / beneath my boots."

These poems display a certainty and self-confidence, a sure and deft hand guiding the integrity of each line, and crafting a world for each poem to inhabit. In the epilogue, he writes, "Back out of this now/ because to stay / is to trap one voice with another." But there is no sense in this book that another traps any voice; rather, each voice the speaker hears is given a silence in which to speak.