Allan Peterson's first full-length poetry collection, Anonymous Or, could easily have been titled Introduction to Metaphysics for Zoologists and Entomologists, or else Peterson's Field Guide to Philosophy. From the opening lines of the first poem, "Right Before Your Eyes," Peterson reaches for the grand themes that guide and define a human existence:
It doesn't take a disaster.
Your life is always passing before your eyes, and through. . . ,
However, the universal thoughts Peterson struggles with, more often than not settle back into the specific, the small-scale scenes, the real, in the same way "Right Before Your Eyes" fades from a general meditation on life into a simple portrait of a Carolina mantis.
Peterson has a remarkable way of connecting these diverse aspects of being. He touches on the subtle images he sees by exploring a vision beyond the momentary. His titles alone hint at the long afternoons spent contemplating existential themes, spiritual notions, concepts as natural to these poems as wings would be to a dragonfly: "Becoming What You Can," "From Now On," "News From the Simultaneous," "Form in General," "Self Help," "The Contracting Universe." Meanwhile the names Peterson paraphrases- Whitehead, Drake, Albee, Carrera -- reveal a scholar's past just as the creatures he describes- swans, crows, horses, dogs, black skimmers, Monarchs- uncover the eyes of an autodidact learning lessons not taught in the classroom.
The strands merging what Peterson thinks and sees are so tightly woven it is easy to see why Anonymous Or won the Defined Providence book award. Still, the deeper meanings Peterson alludes to again and again are what make the poems worth reading a second time and third, or more. "Identity is open to interpretation," he says in "The Shortchanged Shadow." While in "Don't Get Me Wrong," he muses:
I am just my history and yours and more or less
everyone's and I do what I can.
Occasionally Peterson goes further and suggests that answers to some profound questions do exist, as in these lines from "Self Help":
Sometimes it only takes a word to keep above ruin.
Love is one, and a wing lifted
so the dreams can be identified, primaries, secondaries,
though each have mites.
Hope is like reading the last chapter first. . .
All in all, I think the best thing than can be said about Peterson's writing in Anonymous Or is that he gets almost everything right. He captures ideas as well as images, without losing the images on the way. This is a strong first book by a poet who has made the rounds among noted literary journals such as Connecticut Review, Shenandoah, Notre Dame Review, and Phoebe (see his poems in recent issues of