Poet Captures the Mind with Figments


Poet Gerald George reads emphatically from Figments, a collection of eighty one-page poems that provide illuminating perspectives from unexpected sources. George gave a reading at the Calais Bookshop on April 25th. (Photo by Lura Jackson).

By Lura Jackson

Among the greatest gifts that poetry provides us with is surely its ability to grant us a new perspective. By taking a moment to read a few lines, we may gain sudden insight on a difficult situation, or recognize another facet of our shared human existence. Harnessing and channeling these perspective-shifting devices is no easy feat, but it is one that East Machias poet Gerald George performs repeatedly in Figments, a collection of eighty one-page poems. 

George read from his poems on Saturday, April 25th at the Calais Bookshop, introducing a handful of poetry enthusiasts to their arresting and often amusing format. Unlike his previous poetry, which netted him the Donn Goodwin national poetry prize, the figments do not rhyme, follow a rhythm, or abide by traditional line breaks. Instead, they read as a stream, flowing as our thoughts do, telling anecdotal stories about characters both named and unnamed. The characters are unabidingly real: they could be our mothers, our children, ourselves. Within a single page, George tells the story of each character, masterfully capturing the essence of their respective plights before ending on a delightful twist.

“These are not ‘I’ poems. They are not expressive of me. They are about ‘he’, ‘she’, and ‘it’,” George said. He described the process of writing the poems as unusual and bewildering. 

The figments came to George from 2011 to 2013. “I started writing them at a rapid pace, wondering where they came from. They were different than anything I’d written before.” First the poems were about male subjects, but then a female constant entered the mixture. George interprets her as an elderly lady with dementia, slowly losing touch with reality. Some figments were seemingly prompted by external sources, such as when self-doubt arose when a classmate in poetry class suggested that George and his characters needed to seek psychiatric help. Still, he continued to capture each figment as it came to him. “I decided to think I wasn’t crazy.” Then, in February of 2013, George experienced a minor stroke, and the figments suddenly stopped coming. He still writes poetry, but the format has returned to his more familiar style.

Perhaps the greater effect of Figments is best summarized by a line from one of George’s poems: “what causes the feeling may be an illusion but”, being the entirety of a message found in a bottle that so vexes those that find it. These figments may be illusions, they may be allegorical, or perhaps they are windows in time, connecting us with interpretations of moments tossed to the winds of the collective conscious. Whatever they may be, the feelings they evoke are resoundingly real. 


Signed copies of Figments are now available at the Calais Bookshop for $12. George will be holding additional readings at Bookstacks in Bucksport at 1 pm on May 2nd, at the Porter Memorial Library in Machias at 4 pm on May 14th, and at the Peabody Memorial Library in Jonesport on August 8th.