Translator Mark Spitzer’s translations of Arthur Rimbaud in this new book are simply stunning, a virtual reimagining of Rimbaud’s words. Mark has said in his introduction that past translators have misunderstood what Arthur Rimbaud was saying, his multiple meanings, secret syntax and illusive argots. I have read three translations of Rimbaud, and Paul Schmidt was the best, Berthrand Mathieu was second and Wallace Fowlie was the worst. Mark’s translations are without a doubt the best. I have a few reservations about this book. It does not approach the genius of Rimbaud’s best work including A Season In Hell, and Illuminations. Some of the poems in this book are compelling including the ones about Jesus and the ones where he fantasizes about woman. Rimbaud had limited contact with women until his late twenties when he was in Africa. In his late teens and early twenties he had affairs with Paul Verlaine and five other men. His poems about women are sad and tragic. Also, the book does not contain the complete unpublished poems of Rimbaud. Some poem compositions written in Latin from when he was in grade school are not included. No one knows if Rimbaud wrote poems in Africa. Those would be nice to read. Instead we get a lot of repeats from previous translations, including: poems; parodies of other poets; excerts from A Season In Hell; Rimbaud’s report to the police after he was shot by Verlaine; Verlaine’s account of the shooting to police; and Rimbaud’s letters to his mother and sister from Africa. The last chapter is Rimbaud’s business letters from Africa dealing with his selling guns, coffee and other products in the export trade. The chapter is deadly dull, not an ounce of poetry in it. So, I’d recommend this book with reservations. Mark Spitzer’s translations are superb, but the poems are not that good.
Ralph Haselmann, Jr.
Blue Scarab Press
At the time Bruce Embree died in 1996 he had established a solid reputation among the poets of the mountain Northwest, but was little
known elsewhere. This book, the only full length collection of his poetry, makes a
convincing case that Embree deserves much more.
Embree is presented as the Bukowski of Idaho. The comparison is an
easy one to make; Embree also writes spare, blunt poems about working hard, drinking hard, whores and degeneracy. And Bukowski undoubtedly had an influence on him; Embree mentions Buk more than a few times. But he is not a Bukowski imitator. Embree came by his style honestly. These rough hewn poems come out of a rough
When life presents you with little more than the difficulties of existence, your poetry is going to be straightforward as well. Also, as one who has
lived in Idaho, I can feel the flat, spare landscape in the flat, spare language of these poems.
Up at a quarter to five
Idaho Falls is an hour and a half
Make coffee, eat oatmeal, grab lunch and go
Road may be slick
or snow blowing and drifting like flour
In “Ten Days”, about nearing one’s fortieth birthday, Embree writes:
Sometimes get it up
to climb the hill on snowshoes
Wildest dreams up there somewhere
not landed and close
like the first airplane you touched as a kid
with its dings, shabby paint.
In this life, even realized dreams have “dings, shabby paint.”
These are very visceral poems. Many of them concern physical labor, either in the railroad yards or out in the woods. You can feel it:
Same old thing all day long. The horseflies and green shit saw screaming, hands going to sleep.
It’s the details which make these poems work. Exactly how much change Embree has in his pocket, and how much beer it will buy. These details are relentless, like the life being lived: the wind constantly howling, never enough
money, and when employed, never sure how long it will last. And constantly trying to create poetry out of it.
Like Bukowski, there is an underlying humanity to these poems. This is especially true after Embree settles down with his lover Jeany, and they have a
daughter, Hannah. His love for them comes through, even amongst the fights and depression.
All Mine reads as much like a memoir as a collection of poems. I found myself caught up in the story of Embree’s life, the episodes and
adventures he lives through, presented with clarity and depth. For Embree, creating poetry is just reporting. He is not striving for some greater truth in these poems. They are not “punch line” poems, where a twist in the final line or two reveals some deeper meaning, some final
illumination, in the lines which came before. For Embree, reality is what matters.
Reality is truth.
G. Murray Thomas
DAYS LIKE THESE
High Sierra Books
I enjoy all forms of poetry, from heartfelt romantic love poems to underground Beat poetry. However, too much underground Beat poetry can be downbeat and nihilistic, and too much contemporary poetry can be stilted, stuffy and boring. I have read collections by Poet Laureates and they have left me cold. There are only 5 or 6 genius poets that the world has produced, including Basho, Emilly Dickenson, Arthur Rimbaud, Charles Bukowsk, and Bob Dylan. They stand miles above everybody. There are only three or four poets in the second tie, including H. Lamar Thomas, Kevin M. Hibshman and Wayne Wilkinson, to this I would add Tom McCoy. I have been reading poetry for twenty years now and few poets are memorable. So it is with great pleasure that I tell you about poet Tom McCoy’s first book, Days Like These. McCoy shares with the romantics a warmth, compassion, a love for life and love and a love of the beauty of words, but he adds a sense of playfulness, playing with the words and adding a hint of Hippie mysticism.
In the opening poem, Days Like These, in the last stanza, McCoy writes,”On days like these/I am content to pursue the politics of ease/and with sufficient air lecture recalcitrant chickens/and wonder if what I thought was patchouli/was another incense burning.”
In the poem, Shredded Wheat, McCoy writes, “God stumped into the kitchen shaking off light like a wet dog…. He smiled like a tuna boat at sunset/and set off down the street spilling light and tripping over dogs.”
Those are some remarkable, provocative lines. In poem after poem, McCoy comes up with surprising turns of phrases and brilliant lines.
In the poem, The Handsome Bird, “The morning of beginning/A robust bird flew intricately from the city of blue beginnings/past the hillbilly sunflowers/the slow secrets of trees /the jack of leaves on fire/a handsome bird of immense joy and fragility/circling in the two-fisted/singing hepsibahs and hooligans and dirigibles of delight/then lit like fire in the eye of the day/someday I hope to live that way.” McCoy can be surprisingly literate without being stultifying, stagnant or boring. In the poem, Gun Control, McCoy alludes to the ancient Greek myth of Icarus and recalls Edwin Arlington Robinson’s poem, Richard Corey, about a man who seemingly has everything, but puts a bullet in his head.
Let’s hope McCoy keeps grounded while flying close to the sun, so we are privy to more of his brilliant poetry books. McCoy has been writing poems for thirty years, but has only recently thought to publish them. Imagine how the poetry world would have been different if we were exposed to McCoy’s writings thirty years ago. Perhaps his poems would have been taught in high school and college lit courses.
To paraphrase a great quote, “Some poets are great, some are born great, some have greatness thrust upon them…”, and some poets like Tom McCoy, will themselves into being. This is the most remarkable, brilliant book of poetry that I have read in the last twenty years and I have been reading poetry since high school. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest bookstore to order this book. It is that great, trust me.
Ralph Haselmann, Jr.
THE GHOST OF HARRISON SHEETS
The Temple, Inc.
Jeremy Gaulke is but 20 years old, and he already writes with the world-weariness and authority of a Brautigan, a Carver, or a Bukowski. A
native of Yakima, Washington (described on the back cover as “the dust bowl of the North Pacific”), Gaulke has knocked around in some lousy, bad-smelling jobs, many of which require a lot of fish to die. Whether the fish represent some aspect of Gaulke’s too-early-lost innocence, the currency that barely keeps people afloat amidst the regional poverty, or simple, gilled casualties that caught his reporter’s eye matters far less than the fact that each dead fish-and Gaulke’s unstated understanding of it-is poem enough. This from “12 Miles Out of Bamfield”:
Two exhausted eels
killed by the change in pressure
as we pulled them to the surface
wrapped around each other, the pot
covered in slime
Gaulke composes with great economy, does not linger on unnecessary descriptions, and does not infuse an image or passage with extraneous
emotion. He jots down his truth and moves on, as evidenced in this stanza from “Looking for Sheets”:
i loved the way most boys do
i loved too much
and drove you away
Witness: no mooning, no breast-beating, no aromatherapy to express loss, just that it was what it was. Gaulke’s language is a lonely thing,
and the less he does with it, the better one gets to know him. His life seems a progression from one dead-end situation to another, where he makes about as much progress as the beached rowboat pictured on the cover, but it does not lack humor or affection for the boyhood chums or women who pass through his company in such poems as “Seabeck,” “In Spokane and Everywhere Else,” and “Her Majesty.” Whether chasing poisson or
the warmer, French variation on that theme, Gaulke has been there, done that, and immortalized it in a commendable first collection.
Even an economically suffocated region can yield great poets. Yakima seems to have its poet laureate at the earliest possible stage in his
career. I wish Jeremy Gaulke a life of travel and wider-world experiences, because he has the stuff of greatness in him.
Jack Phillips Lowe
Free Thought Publications
This chapbook starts off kind of slow, and as I read the first poem I dreaded reading any further because I feared the rest of the chapbook would be unremarkable too. But as I dug in and read on, the poems revealed themselves to me in often surprising, literate, whimsical ways that made this a rewarding read. .The Scene of My Crime is the most enjoyable poem in the bunch, about a guy who feels guilty about hauling his books to the dumps in a trash bag and abandoning them, as if he is committing a crime. One by one the books pop up and come to life and start quoting passages from themselves, as if to convince their former owner of their worth. Books such as collections by Robert Browning, Saint-Exupery’s The Little Prince, Gregory Corso’s Mindfeld, Ezra Pond’s Cantos ,Frank Hebert’s Dune, and Heman Melville’s Moby Dick all try to prove their worth, to great comic effect. Also great is his last poem, Aphorism, where a snobbish literary critic says that the typical 19th century poem ran 110 lines until Emily Dickinson whose poems ran a neat and frugal 14 lines per poem. This prompts Lowe to write a peon to Emily. ”Dear Emily, what am I to make of you? Yes, I love you for: pursuing substance over celebrity; choosing the white dress without the veil; laughing off scansion and rhyme; the inverting lens of your mind’s eye; making friends with death. Yet, how can I love you for: trapping the ocean of words in an eyedropper; leaving so many crayons unused in the box; afflicting those who scribbled after you with aphorism? Here, Emily, clipper of wings, is a double valentine for you. This chapbook, Long Forrm, was a joy to read, and I highly recommend it.
Ralph Haselmann, Jr.
The Temple (Tsunami Press)
Travis Catsull is a young poet whose immediacyof style brings to mind Ginsberg’s adage: “First thought, best thought.” The poetry in “Open Spirit” reads as if composed entirely in the moment, impressions glimpsed as if Catsull is jotting down what he sees from the backseat of a fast-moving sedan, then passing the book over to the reader for inspection. Sometimes what he reports are landscape (“Where the fences are made of cactus and hair spray” from “Take Me To Texas”), critters (“You don’t have a couch,” he said. “I know,” I said. “But I don’t have a stuffed coyote either.” from “Wanted: Stuffed Coyote”), ensnared plant life (“Afros of tumbleweed stuck in the fence” from “Stranger Glaciers”), and whatnot (practically every poem). Sometimes what he sees is his own soul, engulfed by darkness (“With lonely jargon I evict the sun.” from “I Promise Not To Blackout Anymore”). Oftentimes, what he renders is genius. Catsull’s images are disturbing, more than a little tragic, and utterly original. Even in the occasional poem diluted by language that could be more precise (and given his talent, that precision will come), Catsull delivers images of unexpected beauty-beauty in the common and the ethereal detectible only to the disenfranchised heart.
A SEASON IN HELL
Poem by Arthur Rimbaud
Translated by Paul Schmidt
Photographs by Robert Maplethorpe
Little, Brown & Company
With text in French and English, this is the definitive 1967 translation by Paul Schmidt of Arthur Rimbaud’s legendary epic A Season In Hell. It makes for a nice pairing, with photos of Mapplethorpe ‘s hand in fire; horns on his head; and arching backward in the nude like a strange satyr. Schmidt has captured all of the fire and passion of Rimbaud’s original language. I have read four translations of Rimbaud including Wallace Fowlie and Bertrand Mathieu, and Schmidt’s is the best with Mathieu coming in second. Rimbaud is at his wildest and most disparaging here, battling the demons of his relationship with Verlaine. This book is beautiful to behold, and was unfortunately found at the discount rack for $7.99 at Borders. Of course at that price it was fortunate for the consumer, but some of the beauty and danger of the book was diluted. I recommend this book if you can find it and better yet Paul Schmidt’s translation of the Complete Works Of Rimbaud, 1967
Ralph Haselmann, Jr.
Butcher Shop Press
Price not given
It’s never a good sign when a publisher or editor doesn’t take the extra effort to proofread his own manuscript. This is the poetry of a very young artist who is trying to find his voice, but he has not yet developed the capacity to translate his passion into solid writing. The result is an unwieldy, off-key, and self-conscious collection of uninspired images and fumbling stabs at internal rhyme (“Money’s a funny thing when you have none honey”–gee, I’ve never seen those words strung together before). An important exception is found in the title poem, “Siren,” which Greenspan seems to have cut loose from all pretense. In so doing, he shows us an authentic voice and a genuine, poetic sensibility. Therefore, it is the most natural poem in the book with the strongest sustained metaphor, and even a few turns of phrases I haven’t seen before. In fact, it’s one of the most purely musical pieces I’ve read in a while:
piano lays the tune low flat steady wild
faster than a speeding child
And the keys ask to unlock their song that they’ve begun
to wail but need the mouth to solo out the tale . . .
I also liked “Basketball” for successfully sustaining the mood of an afternoon game and the dashing off quick sketches of the people standing around to watch the play-by-play. Clearly, his eye and his ear are keen at netting impressions.
I think that Butcher Shop Press offers some superb production values (including a killer imprint logo-pun unintended) and performs a valuable service in introducing us to new voices in these special limited edition chapbooks. Given his musical sensibilities as well as the really nifty stickers that bedeck the envelope the review copy came in, I imagine Greenspan will emerge as a multi-talented artist. I just ask that, as an editor and publisher, he put a little more care into his own labor of love.
SLASH AND BURN
Charles Potts (poetry)
Robert McNealy (images)
Blue Begonia Press
Limited edition of 100 signed copies
Charles Potts of Walla Walla, Washington, is the closest thing to Walt Whitman our generation has. A compassionate, earthy, but unsentimental observer of our country at its greatest moment of crisis and madness since the Civil War, Potts remains a critical force in American letters, as much for his publishing and editing faits accomplis as his own poetry. Fearlessly spearheading a movement in poetry that confronts the political and promotes the spiritual, Potts foresees the convulsive cultural changes in the offing as we enter the Pacific Rim century, yet plays free and loose with the radical changes in language wrought in the post-modern era. He takes seriously the poet’s role as prophet, contemporary commentator, alarum-sounder, and translator of the sublime. The good news about Potts’ own work is that he doesn’t take himself too seriously (and I prefer my prophets to have a decent sense of humor). That is not to say that Slash and Burn is not a serious and ambitious undertaking. Quite the reverse is true. Blue Begonia Press, Potts, and Robert McNealy have taken tremendous care with this project, printing the volume on smooth Wausau Royal Silk paper, producing over 40 full-color pages of McNealy’s images, and sandwiching the work between formidable cut-board covers bound in cloth tape (and reinforced with Chicago screws!). You have to admire any book of poetry that’s built to last, and the poetry and art contained within follow accordingly.
Worth the $400 asking price of the book alone, McNealy’s graphics (with design assist by Smokey Farris) bring to mind the exquisite quality of any edition of Phil Taggart’s brilliant journal Art/Life, alternating energetic solar system map lines with grainy, damaged photographs (lots of street scenes decaying in rinses of red and blue) and oodles of mementos mori painted on newspaper. McNealy’s unsettling inclusion of great floods underscores what I fear Potts imagines will have to happen in order for the planet and the species to purge itself of its ridiculous and noxious excesses. When the friendliest images in a book are the skulls, you know that you’re in territory that isn’t necessarily misanthropic, but it’s certainly the province of an informed pair of pessimists.
Still, the meat of the book is Charles Potts’ poetry, divvied into three acts: Hot Dog Train, Geezers in Space, and Easter Surprise. Did I say that Potts was prophetic? This book was published a few months before 9/11. The start-up pitch, “The Pledge of a Grievance,” chides the right-wing’s vapid punditocracy and drooling flag worshippers for giving us “gliberty and injustice for all.” Be it good, old-fashioned American greed, (“Flashback/Flashforward”), the devaluation of age and wisdom (“Horse Play”), the inability of U.C. Davis researchers to properly dispose of weapons-grade dog shit after dosing beagles with radiation “. . . with a half life longer than all the railroad songs / you’ve ever been subjected to” (“The Hot Dog Train, the H.M.S. Beagle”), or John Glenn’s expensive last hurrah (“Geezers in Space: the Case for American Exceptionalism”), Potts reminds us that it is not pleasant to watch sausage (or what passes for democracy here) being made. In the era of too much information and too few answers, “Binary” says it all: it’s either a one or a zero, a particle or a wave, backward or forward. The world as we’ve known it is gone for good, and mankind’s momentum isn’t so much progress as a form of reverse-engineered evolution. We have set into motion through our greed, stupidity, and carelessness such chaos that, in the end, there is no rest for the weary, no established religion that can hold back the inevitable, no momentum but momentum mori. As Potts concludes in “Binary”: “Statis, neutrality, equilibrium, / Peace and quiet? / Forget about it.” Someone has got to warn us about the reckoning just around the corner. Thank God, the job has fallen to one of the most capable poets we have working today.
If readers express enough interest in Slash and Burn, Blue Begonia Press may be prevailed upon to produce an affordable, soft-cover edition of the book. You can prevail upon them at: Blue Begonia Press, 225 So. 15th Avenue, Yakima, WA 98902-3821.
TWILIGHT OF THE MALE EGO
Any male writer who doesn’t take his midlife crisis too seriously gets my vote. Kurt Lipschutz, writing under the e.e. cummings-style moniker klipschutz, further endears himself by noting in his bio that he is a part-time scrivener for a legal firm. Golly, I haven’t seen the word scrivener since my sophomore English lit course. How quaint to think of Mr. Lipschutz perched up on a Bob Crachit high stool, squinting in bad light, getting his fingers all inky at the behest of some curmudgeonly employer, then scooting home to pen the humorous pieces in this sturdy collection. TWILIGHT OF THE MALE EGO is separated into three segments. The first is “Twilight of the Male Ego,” which contains some nose-thumbing in the direction of 20th century poetics. We find the poet bellyaching in the woods with Bly and drawing first blood with Dickey in “Confessions of a Made Man,” lobbing eggs at Pound’s unfortunate anti-Semitism in “Dear Ezra,” and making a run for the border with Stevens in “13 Ways of Looking at a Burrito.” To offer quotes from any of these three gems would spoil the fun, so I will quote from “the Love Poems of Miles Davis,” which made me fall on the floor, stamping my feet in laughter:
Your eyes, blue as a motherfucker
Your lips, soft as a motherfucker
Your hair, long and satiny as
Try THAT in front of a jazz trio on open mic night and see if anyone keeps a straight face!
The book’s second section, “The Ghazals,” delivers eight ghazals about, well, ghazals. A ghazal is a Persian poetic form consisting of 12-lines (six sets of couplets), which are traditionally, but not necessarily, erotic. Klipschutz traipses from one set of couplets to the next with all the buoyancy of Edward Gorey in a good mood )absent the rhyme). From “Ghazal of the Distant Present”:
” Urdu has no word for “goodies” but fifteen distinct ways
to say “Your ghazal stinks.” This one is not translatable.”
Like Gorey, he gives up moments of beauty briefly glimpsed and lost, as from the “Ghazal of the Phantom Pleasure”:
Colorblind is my brother the painter. Life, she’s just like that.
The treetops sway in six green directions at once. Wooosh.
The final section, “A Mouth in the Country,” muses on a variety of subjects, from Sandy Kaufax to such arresting magazine images as, “A legs-for-days brunette w/blonde&green streaks makes a sudden-death entrance.” This third grouping also features some nifty observations about canines, including the excellent “Raisa the Dog” and this quick impression from “Song of the Five-Star Artists’ Retreat”:
A mutt full of sun
In the green-groined park,
Patrolling, patrolling, leashing the dark.
Humor abounds in unexpected places in TWILIGHT OF THE MALE EGO. Wordplay calls to mind the free-associative chops of John Lennon, Nelson Gary, and Luis Campos. If these are the fruits of a man’s inevitable middle age, then let these boomer-era bards ripen! Ah, klipschutz. Ah, humanity.
THE WOMAN HAS A VOICE
(POETRY OF WOMAN BECOMING)
Deborah M. Prisetly
Illustrated by Lauren M. Gerghty
Edited by Doug and Dianne Holder
Ibhetson Street Press
Deborah M. Priestly’s The Woman Has A Voice is a poetry book full of raw honesty, brutal emotion and dazzling wordplay. It is a bright white beacon of hope in a smog-filled sea of poetic conformity. Priestly offers up a confessional of sorts between her daughters, her mother, herself and other woman. It’s rare to see a male or female poet laying their souls and emotions bare for all the world to see. Priestly also writes with a Pagan spirituality, as if to say that there is a higher power greater than all of us. My favorite poem is called The Branch on page 67.
I try not to notice its shakiness / how the wind beats through / its trusting leaves relentless / instead I worship the sunlight / through the delicate green shells / some broken, some full / but all the leaves are beautiful, / they cling to their knobby post / believing in their right to dance / even on the edge of falling / bearing all their secrets to the earth, / how many times / fearful leaves lost their space in the breath of one restless spirit / pulling them from a world of pure light and playful fire / The branch learns early / that music is wind / and wind is heaven / those dreams that dangle / in our minds, like fantasies / unnamed, disheveled / but I know each leaf prays / a river weeps through each giving / constant like the heavy rain of your walls / trembling in the ideal of hope, true love / only a reflection breathing an instant, / but I feel the rhythm tapping in the shadows / so while I am living, let the time come / that this lonely branch carves a curve / from the core of one fragile heart / to the wide circle of gentle Goddess moon.
Priestly has achieved a literary rarity in making you want to read in-depth while laying her soul bare. Her poetry is universal even though she writes about her own pain and suffering. I think you will enjoy this book, and like me, you will be revisiting it often. I highly recommend it.
Ralph Haselmann, Jr.