Dan Provost aptly describes this collection as a series of ‘confessional’ poems. Every word is scraped from the depths of his heart — the effect is sometimes messy, often uncomfortable and always heartfelt.
As we enter the poet’s mind, things quickly get dark. Provost chronicles ‘The Beginnings of My Despair’ in which he addresses the oppressive nature of time. From a young age he would stare at the clock ‘with direct horror’, interpreting each ticking second as a step ‘closer to eternal darkness’. We all have moments like these, forced to confront our own mortality by the imposing presence of an external influence. The language here is raw and honest, a striking statement of despair and misery.
The stains of a self-Extract from ‘Overrated’
inflicted failed life lie
directly in front
Self-reflection is a theme which resurfaces time and time again in this collection. Pascal famously wrote, ‘All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone’. Provost doesn’t seem to struggle with this; it’s just that he doesn’t like what he finds when he does.
The poet also observes others. In ‘The Little Notebook’, he describes ‘jotting simple observations… just to prove I can witness’. Tired of introspection, this notebook allows the poet to turn his gaze outwards and ‘see all the budding traps an occasional man or woman may fall into’. The notebook collects little anecdotes of failure.
But in the end it is not such a symbol of despair: rather like a poet, the author of this notebook puts the misery of his surroundings into words, turning failure into art. And to whom does he want to prove his capacity to witness? To himself presumably. In which case, perhaps he hasn’t given up all hope.
Not begging for a banquetExtract from ‘The Ghost of Coins’
of sincerity… but a moment of truth
Amidst the nothingness are many nobodies, including those in the subtle and understated ‘A Quintet of Champions’. The five men who sit at the bar ‘day after day, year after year’ are a sorry sight, a symbol of the hopeless misery of human existence. But the lives of this quintet don’t fall into complete despondency: they remain together and are united by a common pursuit, each ‘searching for discounted utopia’.
The utopic moment of truth eludes the poet and reader throughout Under the Influence of Nothingness. Ultimately, we are left with a dull sense of despair because Provost sees few redeeming glimmers of hope. But this is authentic life, sticky and heart-wrenching, repetitive yet unpredictable, a brief journey from an unknown beginning to an uncertain destination.