I’ve been reading Dan Chelotti’s X and thinking about how the poem “Festival of Saint Rocco” might have tanked in a lesser poet’s hands. On the surface, the piece collects scenes from a carnival midway: the plastic clown faces at the shooting gallery, kids, a carny, fathers, the itinerant fencing around one of the rides.
Most of us at some point were prompted to list a scene’s details by a well-meaning writing teacher. Mission accomplished. A+. Or maybe A- because I still can’t quite “see” the children in line in detail. (Forgive her. Teaching is tough, and, again, she means well.)
It’s not the details from a carnival that elevate Chelotti’s piece from writing to poetry. It’s the incredibly skilled orchestration of tone. The target’s clown-tongues are “hit” sometimes “correctly.” This is a place of both laughter and static. Chaos and well defined lines. Some guys are fathers whose children will be returned spun around but not much worse for the wear after a ride on The Cobra. Others end up the carny whose “left incisor” is currently, but not always, elsewhere. These reversals of tone are a ride for the reader. We enter X. We buy a ticket and stand in line for page 64. The pleasant and the unpleasant threaten to smash into each other. (And the wait in line is more than fine, mind you. There is plenty to enjoy in Chelotti’s book.)
As the poem ends I have to ponder the “kinder sightlines” down which the good Saint Rocco blesses us. A divine presence taking aim seems just right.