Carl Dennis 'Unknown Friends' Review

May 20, 2017

Carl Dennis Unknown Friends Review

Publisher: Penguin Books (April 3, 2007)

ISBN-13: 978-0143038757


Unknown Friends by Carl Dennis is a phenomenal book of poetry. The title of the book gives substance to the content of his poems, as they explore the relationships between those as close as friends and those as strangers. In this book many of his poems had long sentences that were set-up loosely and made the poetry flow almost like free-verse. As an advocate of spoken-word poetry I enjoyed reading this book aloud. Without much enjambments and sophisticated poetic tools, poems such as, A Teacher Looks Back, To My Body, To Happiness, and others worked phenomenally. The stanzas in this book ranged  between about five to twelve lines a piece, with a various number of stanzas per piece. A few poems appeared to look like prose, perhaps more like a poetic narrative that was not separated by stanzas. For Dennis, Unknown Friends was a success, as it regards the poems in the book supporting the book’s title.

Throughout the text Dennis is abstractly engaged in exploring human interactions, on all levels. He addresses the interaction between man and himself, man and his educators, man and his neighbors, and more. Each poem’s content adequately supports its title, which supports the books title. In the poem To My Body, the speaker delivers a message to his body, explicating the pressures that the body faces as it is required to do just what the mind tells it to. Unknowingly to many, the body is a sort of friend to the mind, to the self. These type of abstract instances are captured all throughout Dennis’ book, making it a very engaging read.

I played very close attention to Dennis’ use of rather short titles in this book. I believe that having such short titles placed heavy emphasis on the content of his poetry, which responded to the pressure victoriously. Each piece told a different story that still supported the main theme of the entire book. Each title ranged from about one to three words with the exception of about one poem, On the Bus to Pittsburgh.

Inspired Poem - Direct Response To My Body


To My Mind

As a mother to a child or a master to a servant,

I know that you wonder if I can stand the pressure-

I tell you that I can and for more winters to come I will.

It is in me to see this journey through as

a good adventurist would.


On the dark day when I’ll be too weak

To obey your wishes, I imagine you

Reflecting on the days that I beat you to the thought,

The days where some actions become like second


I know you’ll be wondering how you're lost without me

and me without you, don't be troubled.


Luck rings true to my relationship with you,

for after the car crash, I thought I’d be left without

My navigator. You were strong in holding on,

The doctors worked miracles, you responded in favor-

Without flaw you regained control.


About that day off, we needn't take it,

But If we do, I’d choose to climb the mountain anyway.

I’d choose to eat all that we can gather ourselves.

Let us save a bit until tomorrow, although it is not promised

It may serve us better than it did today.


- Dom S. Flagg

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