Charlton Pays Homage to American Youth

Excellent Characterizations and Some Formatting Quirks Both Exist in Radio-Sun

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American teens just living their lives is the basis of Connor Charlton’s narrative poem Radio-Sun, published in 2019. The poem begins by following a select group of teenagers to school where “the cars nap in the lot” and then becomes entangled in some of their more intimate moments. The work is refreshing in the regard that the depictions of the teens are very well done; the poem takes pains to display the complexity of individuals.

Jocks aren’t simply painted as one dimensional meatheads but with a tenderness. The character Scott, for instance, is a football player who starts a band with two girls of very different social status. And with the more typical descriptions of intense football practices comes the loving verse “…there lived the miracle of camaraderie.” The work treats all of its characters delicately as if it were a parent watching over its own children.

Drinking and drinking problems among some of the teens are also addressed; the poem relates how younger siblings can slip into these bad habits too as they open doors into experiences they are not yet ready for as two thirteen year olds, Tre and Charlie, do.

The high school parties which Charlton immortalizes are based in reality and don’t glimmer with the sheen of the glamorized fantasies of Hollywood films. The depiction of teen sex is the same. This aspect of life is captured through interrupted moments in basements and bedrooms with only one couple having a full night to themselves.

There is a scene which acts out statutory rape but the situation is not that familiar old tale of an older male preying on a younger female. In this instance, an older teenage girl who has been drinking attempts to have sex with the aforementioned Charlie after the two have been dared to spend fifteen dark minutes alone in the basement. The situations laid out in Charlton’s work, with all their shining moments and grittier aspects, ring true. Life is not always pretty and no angels reside in the bodies of humans – whether they be male or female.

Despite the excellent characterization and some lovely lines which ruminate on “…how we can only be whole people in other’s imaginations”, readers may have some qualms with this text. From a formatting aspect, there are a few issues. First, there are no page numbers throughout Radio-Sun, which can lead to some confusion if life interrupts a reader who doesn’t happen to have a bookmark available. This is an especially important note to this text as the poem tells a story and if readers open to a page at random, nothing will make sense. Second, while it is clear that Charlton wished to create a sense of time’s flowing nature, with one day leading into another and weeks drifting by as they are want to do, he fails to establish where the readers are beginning.

While the poem almost reaches a sense of timelessness, the fact that none of the characters have cellphones is telling and this discovery leads to questions. Are the events taking place in the 1980s or even the very early 2000s? How is this time affecting the decisions of characters like Rachel? She is a skateboarding loner who pines after Kimmy, a girl who is not one of the high school elite but seems to swim in the upper echelons of high school society. And while the poem is under no charge to completely flush out why Rachel acts in certain ways, her identity as gay is almost certainly being affected by the times. It would be helpful for readers to have some context of the world in which these characters are inhabiting.

In addition, with the exception of some extra spacing between segments, there were no real breaks in the work. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, instead of flowing into each other, new ideas and characters were rammed into each ending segment.

Connor Charlton’s skill as a writer shines when it comes to his ability to create intricate, fully realized characters in such a small space. He has mastered the art of depicting the conflicts of ordinary life in such a way that make them extremely compelling to read about.

Charlton has also published another narrative poem, The Frog Gods, which readers can sustain themselves with as they wait for another publication from Charlton. It will be exciting to see how this poet grows and what he accomplishes next.

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2 thoughts on “Charlton Pays Homage to American Youth

  1. Your review raises an interesting point about formatting choices: at what point does nonstandard formatting cease to reinforce the poem’s message and become a distraction or, even worse, an annoyance to the reader? I think you also raise a good point about the experience of the characters needing to be grounded in place and time.

    Liked by 1 person

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