Adam Tavel’s Green Regalia
The World Through A Tiny Time-Machine Window: A Review of Adam Tavel’s Green Regalia By Clay Arvin
The interior of Green Regalia, the new collection by poet Adam Tavel, is like its cover—a mosaic piece filled with all of the colors of life, including the dark interludes. It’s the kind of slim volume that leaves the reader asking for more. Tavel is the author of four previous books, including Catafalque (University of Evansville Press, 2018), The Fawn Abyss (Salmon Poetry, 2017), Plash & Levitation (The University of Alaska Press, 2015), and the chapbook Red Flag Up (Kattywompus, 2013). Rubble Square and Sum Ledger are due out in 2022 and 2023 respectively. Tavel is known for poems that are both introspective and frosty.
While the book is split into four sections, Green Regalia offers a strong focus throughout on the question of what makes us human. Each poem (some more narrative than others) takes the reader on a journey, offering glimpses into different lives, different possibilities. With “Crash Test Dummy,” for example, Tavel imbues crash-test dummies with sentience, shedding light on an otherwise glossed-over part of human life:
Tick up the count, which freeze when we see
Without the thin dignity of clothes
Your bloodless body blooming through the glass.
Tavel’s poems can be emotionally evocative without being showy; no dictionary or deep knowledge of poetical devices is needed to access his poems. He uses alliteration sparingly, at just the right moments. An aspect of the book that I particularly liked was Tavel’s choice to offer poems that are hyper-focused on various points in time; the experience of reading these pieces was a little like seeing through the tiny window of a time machine. Take “John Coltrane at Ground Zero Hiroshima, 1966”:
Your translator paced the empty train
until he found you dreaming wide awake,
alone, clacking scales up and down
a tuneless flute that shimmered in your lap.
the city’s tide angles made you grin.
For example, his poems that zoom in on the 9th century BC, saint Helena 1821, July 22, 1945, explore their specific settings and times, giving an interesting take on the events that happened on a particular day. From from "Jesse Owens Races a Horse in North Dakota July 22, 1945":
still ache from racing outfielders whose boast
before the game was they’d take his golds like toys.
Each time he won he hustled silently
back from the dandelion patch to stretch
and go again.
Because Tavel’s book offers so many entry-points, Green Regalia is a good title to keep handy. Most of the poems are about a page in length—easily digestible during calm moments in a busy day. But that’s not to say that there’s anything superficial or surface-level about this book. On the contrary, it’s a collection with great depth, populated with rich and fresh line-level texture. We sense the writer behind the poems, but don’t feel directed or forced into any specific reading.
While the bulk of the collection trades in mini-stories and snapshots in time, two pieces stood out as outliers: “Dialogue with Dead Mosquito” and “Bloom.” I found myself preferring Tavel’s dominant mode because of the opportunities the writer offers to go on a lyrical journey in those cases. For readers craving a poem that spotlights an unexpected inanimate object, “Ode to Tissue,” is the one for you; if you’re craving something dark, “My Father’s Truck” is your go-to poem; if you’re in need of a poem that’s simple, yet effective, “Footage From the Hide” is the pick.
Carry this book in your back pocket or your bag for a week or two and it will continue to offer surprises upon your repeat visits to its pages. Green Regalia is available from the Stephen F. Austin State University Press. Read Tavel’s poems in Issue 18 of Miracle Monocle.