F2O LitStyle: Chameleon by Charles Joseph | Kendall Bell | Book Review

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Charles Joseph
Indigent Press, 2017

Charles Joseph has been called a “poet of the people”, and his first full length collection of poetry and short stories shows why this can be accurate, though, with a thorough reading of this collected works that spans from 2012 to 2016, more layers are unraveled, and Joseph proves to be a bit more of a chameleon than you would imagine him to be.

Split into three sections, Chameleon’s first and third chapters are the poems: some of which have appeared in Joseph’s four chapbooks, while also highlighting his newer material. The second chapter holds six of his short stories, which revolve around either composites of himself, every day people trying to make it through another day with the little scraps of lives they’ve built for themselves, or somewhat shady characters who can’t seem to make the right decisions in life. Whether in story form or in poetry, Joseph is adept at pinpointing the malaise that encompasses the subjects. Narratives are his forte, and he nails them in poems like “Thrift Store Poem #1”, where he likens a poem to a suit or a dress/that you pass along/to someone like a hand me down/with a bit of luck/it will fit them/as well as it fit you/when you wore it/for a few days. Joseph also is quite skilled at using the titles of his poems as starting points, and then entirely flipping the poem into something you didn’t expect at first, while using his dry sense of humor to hammer the poem down, like in “Creature From The Black Lagoon”, where he and his partner can’t seem to agree on the best kind of candy. “Color Me Tori Amos” cleverly refers to depression as the weight of a piano on your back. Most impressive is the variety in subject matter, despite the heaviness of many of the poems in the book. It is not to say that it casts a pall over the collection, but rather manages to find both a sense of humor, as well as a proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel”, but don’t mistake it for being tongue in cheek, as Joseph’s work runs a bit deeper than ordinary, with great attention to metaphor and sentimentality. This is a collection that could easily appeal to non-poetry readers, as a break from what many people believe poetry to be: difficult to read or understand. Chameleon should be the first of many solid collections from the likes of Charles Joseph.