With IN WHICH WE SEE OUR SELVES, Eric Torgersen begins with the formal structure of the ghazal as popularized by Agha Shahid Ali and unapologetically makes a more American thing of it, arguing in his Afterword that this transformation is as inevitable as what happens when the children of immigrant parents pass through an American junior high school: not everyone is pleased with the result.“I’ve tried to avoid faux- Eastern themes and tones,” he writes.
Fluently metrical and effortlessly rhymed, at times in short, hard-hitting lines with refrains as brief as a single word, these poems leap off the page with speech as American as this:
My gang all quit when I didn’t split the take right.
We crashed and burned when I didn’t hit the brake right.
Following the common practice of “signing” the poems in the final couplet, Torgersen allows a chorus of voices — selves? — to speak of, to, for and even against this Eric, this ‘Ric, this Torgersen, this Eric the Derrick, this Torgie.
“Back Then —A Tale of a Life Gone Wrong,”, begins simply:
I was just an average Joe back then.
I had no plans or dough back then.
Family gone, no friends to speak of,
I was feeling pretty low back then.
I started hanging out too much.
I had no place to go back then.
Seven couplets later, he signs with his given name, embedded in the name of his country:
America, it wasn’t you.
I did it. Long ago. Back then.
Eric Torgersen was born in Melville, New York. He has a BA in German Literature from Cornell University; after two years in the Peace Corps in Ethiopia, he earned an MFA in poetry from the University of Iowa. He retired in the spring of 2008 after 38 years of teaching writing at Central Michigan University. He lives in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan with his wife, the quilt artist Ann Kowaleski. Since retiring, Eric has volunteered for the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy. He enjoys fishing and foraging for wild mushrooms. He is available for workshops and readings.
He is presently serving a two-year term as Honorary Chancellor of the Poetry Society of Michigan.