John Amen's Illusion of an Overwhelm offers four distinct series: "Hallelujah Anima," in which the poet explores desire, self-inquiry, and ambivalence, as well as the torturous journey of inner healing; "The American Myths," highlighting the intersections between politics, religion, and archetypal dynamics, inspired in part by Black Lives Matter and other progressive forms of populism; "My Gallery Days," which focuses on multiple characters and overlapping narratives, offering poetic commentaries on art and the fleeting nature of life; and "Portrait of Us," the poet's celebration of enduring love and romance, presented from multiple viewpoints and timeframes. While covering wide ground thematically and imagistically, Amen makes use of searing language, the book resounding on conceptual and aesthetic levels long after the final line is read.
I love the poems in Illusion of an Overwhelm for their beauty and wildness, Amen's willingness to push language to its edge, offering new insights and meanings in surprisingly new ways. Reminiscent to me of the Whitman, Crane, Ginsberg lineage of American poetry, especially in Amen's deeply satisfying marriage of the physical world and the metaphysical one, and his embrace of a wide-ranging diction, these poems have a freshness to them, and at the same time seem abundantly necessary for our particularly troubled times. Read this book. More than once.