A poet, says Wordsworth, “is a man speaking to men.” This is true of R. A. Christmas in his collection City of Roses. Christmas’s poems have the conversational quality of things revealed quietly and briefly either to strangers or friends. They do not intend to shock or startle but to just speak. The vignettes are self-controlled with a sparseness (and sometimes humor) backed with worlds of meanings.
Dedicated “to the Pasadenans,” Christmas’s is an autobiographical fiction emerging from his childhood and adolescence in Pasadena, California. The poems remember a male past without nostalgia or ugliness. Though centered in time, place, and culture, the poems also touch on universals such as identity (“His last name was laughable. / You couldn’t get past it without thinking / of twinkling trees, presents—”); family (“The Christmases were just middle-class / Methodists [no blood on our door post]. / My brothers and sisters are still kickin’. / Our avenging angel passed by. Why?”); and youthful sexuality (“her bed’s on the lawn. / The big Truck’s nearly full— / soon she’ll be gone.”)
City of Roses is readable and artistically—if not emotionally—pleasurable (“Easton Wash,” a poem dealing with molestation, represents the pain involved with any re-creation of the past). Subtle and understated as they are, Christmas’s poems do depend on their readers to read and believe in their poetry. Reading City of Roses awakened in me the desire to re-create my own life with words—and so passes one of my tests of effective poetry.