“Inventory of Doubt”: A Reflection on Form and Complex Language in Landon Godfrey’s INVENTORY OF DOUBTS

Landon Godfrey is it treat to the poet who likes to read the comical and the complex. But for this reviewer, the real star of The Poetry within Inventory of Doubts is the poet’s dedication and loyalty to the consistency of form. On each page for the most part with a few exceptions, Godfrey lays out a square syntactical poetic shape. These are no mistake free verse poems. However, it seems that Godfrey in the crafting of them intends to place limits upon the juxtaposition of the language that she makes use of in their composition. And this by no causes a mincing of words. On the contrary, it tells us that Godfrey as a poet has a propensity for challenging herself to a whole lot with language in a small or limited amount of space. In the era of poetry in which we live, there is a certain wilderness to free verse poetry. The most common format in the contemporary era of verse is that of the arbitrarily formatted confessional lyric. In the face of this, Godfrey succeeds not only in limiting herself in terms of form and what she’s willing to do with it, but she forms on more than one occasion rather beautiful lines of confessional poetry.

Take for example this line from the poem “thermometer”: “if I could do things differently next time I wouldn’t sleep with my psychiatrist.” This line juxtaposed against the experience of consuming absinthe liquor tells us a great deal about the personal psychology of Godfrey’s own personal character. Though the poem does have a speaker who may not actually be Godfrey herself, we might be able to assume certain levels to which Godfrey might be sharing with us on a personal level a very real non-speaker sense of struggle, pain, and regret. Is this willingness to share blunt, real, and unabated passion with us that further makes Inventory of Doubts a truly successful book of poetry.

But more is the fact that Godfrey makes use of creativity in forming complex language in order to make images jump off of the page in a way that makes us double take on entire passages. For example, in the poem, “Yellow,” Godfrey coins the word “yellowniverse,” to describe the image of popping champagne bottle cork and its fountaining of liquor. She forms the word, “blueniverse,” to depict the cosmos. Even more Godfrey uses a word of her own in the final line of the poem, “milliwhere,” in order to call into question the human perception of time and how it is we go about finding the lost things of our human realm. The poem is a love lyric, but more it teaches us a strong lesson on how we must use the tools we have as poets to come to the point of what we are thinking of, even if we must resort to that most Shakespearian of methods in making up words of our own. This was the poem, at  least for me, that confirmed Landon Godfrey as a true and bold wordsmith.

However, this is not the only situation in which Godfrey makes use of a complex diction. In the poem “Aviatrix,” Godfrey demands straight from the title that we maintain a high level of understanding regarding the language she makes use of. This is the mark of a poet’s poet. It could be read as a typical propensity to thumb through the thesaurus that many poets struggle with. Using language that many of us are unfamiliar with is in the end a pit that many creative writers fall into in order to express an image a moment of beauty. But, Godfrey does this in a way that doesn’t ultimately lead us astray in the reading of her poems. In the aforementioned poem, Godfrey tells us of a female pilot who is in the midst of great struggle. This is relayed by the fact that there is no use of punctuation throughout the poem. It is written with a frantic tone that focuses on the images of falling and the state of dropping to the ground amidst the subject’s fear of passengers upon a plane. It seems almost nonsensical. However, the way Godfrey strings us along in an ever-changing rhythmic stream of consciousness, we are led to a form of universal truth that in a way turns the poem into a sort of moral didactic. In the closing lines of the piece we are reminded that, “One way or another the ground will meet us all.” Godfrey, whether or not this experience really did take place, tells us through her speaker that all that is on the Earthly plane ultimately is subject to the whims of the forces of space and time. Whether or not we are in a position of fight of flight, ultimately all circumstances will either come to a head and escalate or resolve to a rest amongst the paradigm of the so called normal.

The last of Godfrey’s specific verses that deserve a touch of attention is the poem “Cy Twombly Untitled.” I believe this to be the ultimate apex of where we see Godfrey’s strength as a sympathetic voice to the condition of human communication and conduct and the hyper-technological civilization in which we live:

Wordless elegance of gesture, white ovoids strung on grey ground

Asking with radical politeness that we consider surface. So we

Do, standing in cool museum air, in the unerring illumination

Delivered be magisterial skylights. All day the painting reminding

Everyone of a chalkboard, rare universal artifact of what we call

Civilization. When we turn to leave, graffitied prayer (Ovoid!)

Performs last rights on our visit. We are more alone now than ever.

From the outset Godfrey transforms the image of a human person, more specifically a face, into a lifeless looking sphere. The use of the word ovoid is significant as well because with the word comes attached a combination of spherical description and bulbous imagery. And this very well on Godfrey’s part could be a way of describing the western affliction of obesity and a more general carelessness towards our own body’s well-being when compared to the state of our technology. Godfrey describes how looking at art from the past makes us hunger for a civilization that might no longer be thriving amidst a greater desensitization and insular mass behavior. Furthermore, we are left to meditate on how we may just be on our own in the universe to even a higher degree than before because our attention and enthusiasm seems directed to the unmentioned gadgetry of modern human beings.

But, it is worth noting that in almost every single one of Godfrey’s poems there is a concrete shape that is just begging to be unwrapped and explicated for the notes, words, and images that go unsaid. Like a great blues album, Godfrey leaves the best accents and images muted or held for us to attain the greatest meaning on our own.

Inventory of Doubts, by Landon Godfrey. North Adams, Massachusetts: Tupelo Press, September 2021. $18.95, paper.

Matt Cooper is a senior English major at Wichita State University and lives in El Dorado, Kansas. He has written for the WSU Sunflower newspaper and has studied at Butler Community College and Kansai Gaidai University.

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