Charles Rammelkamp, The Field of Happiness, Kelsay Books, 2022 ISBN 9781639801268 152 pages $19.00
Charles Rammelkamp’s The Field of Happiness is a unique book of poetry. Rammelkamp is the bard of the everyday and middle-class American. It is not a small thing. Rammelkamp’s poetry is exact, with no excess words that drag his vision down. No endless list of exotic flowers or name-dropping phrases. The poet is also a narrator. He tells tales, usually with a twist, often with humor, and insight.
Though I want to illustrate Rammelkamp’s huge talent, I feel guilty quoting an entire poem, because I’m robbing the future reader of his book of the surprise ending. Unless one is not connected to current American culture, they will smile on reading it. In addition, there are so many poems in the book, a small taste is not detrimental.
Coming up the airplane aisle,
Looking for her assigned seat,
an overhead storage bin,
like a kid at camp, or a refugee,
the pretty Asian college girl
clutched not just a book—
all the others held laptops,
e-readers, ear buds, “mobile devices” —
but a copy of Swann’s Way.
I couldn’t resist saying to her,
from the seat I’d already taken,
“Marcel Proust! Hey, I’m impressed!”
The girl blushed, looking at her book,
then over her shoulder at her boyfriend,
a pudgy white guy, likewise looking
for his seat assignment, overhead storage,
“He’s reading it, too.”
The boy rolled his eyes.
What’s she doing with him, anyway?
During the two-hour flight,
I glanced at her in a seat across the aisle,
her head bowed over the paperback,
and I remembered Aika Morita,
a girl from my college days
I never quite worked up the nerve
to ask out on a date.
After we landed, recovered our bags,
Idled in the aisle, waiting to exit,
I heard the girl, behind me, exasperated,
“All he does is take a walk at Combray,
admiring the hawthorns!”
“No way I’m reading that book,”
The boyfriend declared.
What a douche!
I felt so keenly then how
I could never recover that lost time.
The brilliance of the vulgarity and the literary allusion and its meaning in the last line needs no comment.
However, such surprises and both amusing and thought-provoking endings are the rules in this book.
There are other encounters with contemporary culture that are thought-provoking. “No Justice, No Peace” is about having another car banging into the poet’s. The poem is set in Baltimore at an intersection of 28th St. and Sisson Street. The other driver is black as is the passenger in his car and a witness to the event on the street, a guy with a homeless sign. The last stanza produces thought-provoking irony. This event occurs two days after the Freddie Gray riot. I will leave the ending of the poem to the future reader of the book. In some ways, the traffic encounter is a very low-key racial incident, but it has the truth of realism as to how it worked out. What is interesting and important to the poem is that the Rolling Stones cover of a Smokey Robinson song, “It was just my imagination running away with me” was playing on the car radio. That line is instrumental in the denouement of the poem. Also, little touches like Freddie Gray, a white van driven by black men play into the scenario. Yes, the colors are minor touches in one sense but important in another. The poet states things quietly often. He produces thought-stimulating effects, and irony often.
The poem that follows “No Justice, No Peace” is “Driving While Black.” The main character is named OJ—I don’t think it is that OJ, but of course, the allusion comes to mind. Hoops is his pet dog, an Alaskan husky, part boxer. Though there is more setting up the circumstances of this poem, I’ll just quote two stanzas, the second one, and the ending.
DRIVING INTO THE GLARE OF THE SUN,
Oj told me, he missed the traffic light sliding
From yellow to red, and right away
The gotcha whoop of a police siren
Brought him to a stop.
“it was having a blue-eyed blond that saved me.”
OJ told me later, laughing.
“I couldn’t be a complete criminal, could I?”
The blond is Hoops, the dog. There is the truth of black drivers being pounced upon for any traffic violation, but also the easiness and friendship of the white narrator with OJ plays a part in this ironic scene.
There are 152 pages in this book of poems. Road Rage, Age, the Chicago Cubs, Tennis, Johnny Unitas, and Randall Jarrell, and the heart as a metaphor for emotions are a few of the subjects Charles Rammelkamp explores. The poems are entertaining, and like I already said many times in this short review, thought-provoking. The simplicity and ironic insight are brilliant. If you live in America and are acquainted with American culture, you will like this book. I highly recommend it.
© Charles Rammelkamp and Dan Cuddy
Charles Rammelkamp is Prose Editor for BrickHouse Books in Baltimore, where he lives with his wife Abby. He contributes a monthly book review to North of Oxford and is a frequent reviewer for The Lake, London Grip, Misfit Magazine and The Compulsive Reader. A poetry chapbook, Mortal Coil, was published in 2021 by Clare Songbirds Publishing and another, Sparring Partners, by Moonstone Press. A full-length collection, The Field of Happiness, will be published in 2022 by Kelsay Books.
Dan Cuddy was previously a contributing editor with the Maryland Poetry Review and with Lite: Baltimore’s Literary Newspaper. He has been published in many small magazines over the years, such as NEBO, Antioch Review, and Connecticut River Review. In 2003, his book of poems, Handprint On The Window, was published by Three Conditions Press.