This review originally appeared in Lunchbox Diaries on June 21, 2016.
First Breaths of Arrival was written by Tyler Robert Sheldon, a Kansas native. A longer bio and contact information can be found at the end of this review. If you haven't already, be sure to listen to Table Talk, Episode 1, where we interview Tyler and he reads one of his poems from his chapbook. Find Table Talk here.
In Sheldon’s chapbook, 16 poems reach from the page to the reader, begging to be read. They attach themselves onto the minds behind the eyes that translate the symbols on the page and they don’t let go. Their fervor is as wild and strong as Kansas anything.
Let’s cut to the chase. These sixteen poems have strong hooks that engage the reader from the start. While the table of contents suggests that some of these selections will only resonate with those who are native to Kansas, there is much more to the material than a simple regionalism. In fact, there is nothing simple about these poems, Kansas-themed or not. They are intricate and avidly demonstrate the sort of spiraling that life often puts us through. He shapes and molds moments from the syntax and creates a fresh experience for us. The poems themselves are intelligent, sensual, kind, challenging, seductive, contemplative, and heartwarming. Sheldon leaves no stone un-turned, no emotions un-plucked.
However, as a Kansas native, these are so strong in their imagery that I felt like my own childhood had been recorded on the page. But it isn’t just the Midwestern ties that make this chapbook wonderful. Sheldon has a strong sense of rhythm that makes each piece engaging throughout. It is impossible to lose oneself in the words when the words so clearly show you the way. The imagery and repeated ideas, phrases, also help to cement the reader in the reality of the experience. And sometimes, as often happens with poetry, the reality too is fictional in the sense that it is not our reality, however much we relate or however much we want it to be our own. This is not a negative by any means—that multi-faceted aspect of Sheldon’s work creates a stronger, more cohesive result. These sixteen poems will not let you go.
There’s another aspect to Sheldon’s work that makes it so enjoyable, but it is harder to name. It is the sensation that you get when you hear a good story—not just a good story, but a GOOD story, the kind that sticks with you wherever you go, weeks and months and years down the road when your life has changed beyond recognition. Sheldon’s poetry is insightful, playful, observant, and not easily forgotten. He shapes and molds moments from the syntax and creates a fresh experience for the reader. The individual poems themselves are intelligent, sensual, kind, challenging, seductive, contemplative, and heartwarming. Sheldon leaves no stone un-turned, no emotions un-plucked. First Breaths of Arrival is an engaging and smart little chapbook that will take you to places you didn’t know you needed to be. If you do nothing else this week, contact Tyler and purchase a copy of his chapbook. You’ll be supporting an upcoming author and bolstering your soul at the same time.
Tyler Sheldon earned his MA in English from Emporia State University, where he taught Composition and received the Charles E. Walton Graduate Essay Award. Poems and reviews have appeared in Coal City Review, The Dos Passos Review, Flint Hills Review, Quiddity, and other journals. His debut chapbook, First Breaths of Arrival, was published May 2016 by Oil Hill Press.
Would you like your own copy of Tyler Sheldon's First Breaths of Arrival? You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Happy reading!