In film, a flash cut, according to the dictionary, is “an extremely brief shot, sometimes as short as one frame, which is nearly subliminal in effect … short staccato shots that create a rhythmic effect.” In Pittsburgh writer Charles W. Brice’s debut poetry collection, Flashcuts Out of Chaos (WordTech Editions, $19), readers encounter memory cultivated into narrative poems acting as cinematic moments. It’s a book that celebrates life while revealing troubling family matters in honest, confessional ways.
Forgoing a bio page, Brice goes postmodern by including his background in the first poem, “Include a Brief Biographical Statement (Three Lines) with Your Poetry Submission.” It begins, “I am a sixty-year-old man and look it. / My once auburn beard is grey, / my Beatle hair all gone now,” and discloses, using stream-of-consciousness style over 54 lines, that the writer is a “fat,” “former psychoanalyst” with “a PhD in psychology” and little formal training in creative writing. The quirkiness highlights an obsessiveness at getting to the truth of important personal moments.
In “Marmalade,” Brice writes of being on a train traveling from Cheyenne to Omaha in 1954 with his parents, “three fat pink people,” attended to by a staff of hard-working black men. The sharp-eyed imagery summons memories of how “the porter with his tiny xylophone / calls passengers to breakfast or dinner, / waiters in the dining car, white coats, /… rhythmic clatter of cups and saucers, / boxcar acrobats balance huge trays / as the train sways and heaves.” There’s nice movement and physicality in the lines as the piece strives to mend a racial divide that persists today, albeit in different ways.
While later poems in the 97-page collection like “Just Once” and “Being and Nothingness and Being” lean toward the philosophical, earlier poems tend to be fleshed-out, tangible and more successful. In “Goodbye,” Brice writes of Auntie Ursal, who would “sing to me, or chant / her rosary beads, rattle them against my bed.” After losing her war-veteran son to a car crash, “she jerked at the 21-gun salute.” It’s fleeting moments like these that Brice successfully transfixes and brings to life for closer examination.
While personal scrutiny continues in poems like “At Ten I Thought Everyone Had A Shoebox Filled With Human Teeth …,” “Prematurely Ripped” and “Checked Out,” in the end, Flashcuts stands as an ambitious first collection seeking to make sense of both time and place.