Without a Crystal Ball


Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-919957-16-1






Reviewed by Andrew Brooks

Andrew Brooks was Assistant Editor of Ethos magazine.


This slim volume contains ten poems, rhymed and unrhymed. Most of them deal with personal, everyday subjects. Flanagan seems to have real problems with his attempts to write in a rhyming style. While he shows a good ear for rhythm, his rhymes, as in “A Woman Lost” and “A Toast to Newlyweds,” are jarring. The rhymes themselves are usually exact, but Flanagan frequently resorts to the old device of twisting syntax into archaic forms to get them to the end of the line.

Most of the poems cover aspects of daily life and the insights they offer are often unremarkable enough that the reader has to wonder why they were published in the first place. “A Toast to Newlyweds” and “Christmas Shopping” properly belong in letters to the people for whom they were written. “The Work Ethic,” on the other hand, is a piece of gratuitous, simplistic union-bashing that might have some application in Flanagan’s own workplace but quickly stretches thin when it ambles into generalities.

To be fair, “To Helene” and “Being” show sophistication of thought and some hard-edged insight, although both are cramped by an unnecessary “poetic” language, which is odd as neither poem is written within the constraints of a strict repetitive rhythm or rhyme scheme. Maybe what Flanagan needs to do is discard the strict forms and experiment with more free verse, which, even at this point, allows more of his sensitivity and intelligence to show through.

This is the kind of book a beginning poet might produce after he had decided to be a poet but before his talent has truly begun to evolve. Whether this is the case for Without a Crystal Ball remains to be seen.


Flanagan, Jim, “Without a Crystal Ball,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/35918.