Chameleon reviewed by Matthew J. Hall from Screaming with Brevity
Chameleon is a three-part collection of poems and stories from Charles Joseph’s archive, spanning from 2012-2016. The middle section is made up of six short stories, leaving the bulk of the book poetry heavy. The opening and titular poem is a confessional affair which introduces the author’s intent; self-examination and honesty. The narrator is an every-man type fellow, who knows how to keep up appearances for the sake of family and friends, but isn’t too sure what to do with the secrets and insecurities that lurk beneath the surface. The ensuing poems and stories bare well under the strain of pulling those hidden aspects up from under the skin and, for good or ill, giving them a chance to breathe their own air.
Though the poems continue with self-deprecation aplenty, the internal search discovers its own personal treasures. Joseph is prone to a somewhat bleak perspective known well by those familiar with depression, but he is also well acquainted with hope and beauty; none more so than in the poem, Fireball. Here the poet embraces his own uniqueness, recognises his own beauty, discovers his own identity and celebrates it. In fact the good stuff is celebrated throughout the collection as Joseph speaks with obvious affection of friendship, music, poetry, conversation and humour, all as a means for connection.
The majority of the poems are conversational in tone and they often have several layers, some of which are revealed only in the final stanza’s last lines.
The six short stories spread themselves fairly evenly over forty-one pages. Their characters are, on the whole, everyday folks whose narrative is familiar and believable. They are people who are aware of their own fallibility. They are conscious of their failings and, perhaps more importantly, they are aware of their inadequate efforts toward redemption. True to the poetry’s intent, the fiction looks inside itself as a starting point for understanding its surroundings. In amongst the deceit and frustration there are glimpses of hope and love.
There is a refreshing versatility to this collection with poems satisfying of sound and sharp in musicality, which are perfect for a listening audience. And there are poems best read in solitude where they can be shared privately by writer and reader. Furthermore, there are poems which serve all the above purposes and they usually do it without transgressing the bounds of a single page.
If there is an overriding theme in this book of selected works, it is one of being driven to do better, to be better; a continuation in the strive which manifests itself in the creative act. Chameleon is broad in subject matter and style, it is amusing at times, often moving and persistently far-reaching. Charles Joseph writes about the ordinary and the extraordinary, and he does so with honesty and heart.
I’ll end, if you’ll indulge me, on a personal note by mentioning my favourite poem of the batch. Poetry Dad, dedicated to Rebecca Weber, quenches a particular thirst of mine. The two-page piece self ridicules the insecure writer and celebrates a community of poets who are proud of each other’s achievements; spurring each other on in that stead. I’ve read my share of small press articles, blog posts, interviews, etc. and listened to my share of podcasts and radio shows dedicated to independent writing and publishing. In doing so I have come to the conclusion that there are none quite so dreary as the writers who publicly dismiss the artistic endeavor of their fellow creative types. They have this weird compulsion to discredit the bulk of their peers as though they have written the defining line. They are miserly with compliments and niggardly with book recommendations. They form little cliques where they gather in a small huddle, tickle each other’s balls and giggle. Fuck those guys. Give me a sense of community, give me the celebration of the next generation’s creativity, give me Charles Joseph, give me a poetry dad.