Don Winter, “Even the Dead Are Growing Old,” Working Stiff Press, email@example.com. 29 pages. npl.
During the run up to the 2012 election, it was possible to walk through our small, former one-industry city and see the evidence of corporate greed in action. The local story, after close to 40,000 layoffs by corporate monster GE in the 70’s, a layoff for which this city has never recovered, any news of hiring was greeted with excitement. Contec was hiring was the word on the street. And there were well over a hundred, decent paying, local jobs. A pair of new buildings were built to handle the overload, the new workers and everyone was happy. Workers patronized local, within-walking-distance businesses. A lunch truck arrived every day to help feed the workers. Then Bain came on the scene. Yes that Bain. They acquired Contec, sent the 119 jobs overseas, put for sale signs up in front of those two new buildings and watched the weeds grow. Just before the election, Contec filed for chapter 11.
This is the world that Winter writes about: life in America today. The setting could be in any of the dying or dead Upstate New York, one-industry towns. Or it could be Ohio. Michigan. Anywhere the anti-working stiff, union busting, wage suppressing, corporate entities reside. Or used to reside, as many of these factories are little more than decaying husks. As the New York Times once said not that long ago, in effect, “It was possible to watch tumbleweed blow down the street (of the upstate city described above ) at noon and no one or no thing would interrupt its journey down the main street.”
Readers of Winter’s work know he gets it right: he’s been there, done that and has the scars to prove it. These are vivid, effective pieces of life just making ends meet or not. The final two poems, “Breaking Down” and “Even the Dead are Growing Old” are as good as this kind of narrative poem gets. Unfortunately, there aren’t more of this kind. The collection is too brief; some poems are no more than few lines. Others are short, but vivid, solid pieces. Ultimately, we want more of what Don Winter does best; what more could a poet ask for?
Small is by no mean insignificant. In the tradition of the alterative press movement that began in earnest in the 50’s, Dan Wilcox’s APD Press releases a small number of chapbooks and a limited number of longer books on an irregular basis. Two of the most recent titles include Wilcox’s own, “Poeming the Prompt” and Cheryl Rice’s, “Moses Parts the Tulips: Albany poems.”
“Poeming the Prompt” is a sardonic look at the current poetic phenomena of writing poems to daily prompts for a specific amount of time, in this case, November 2011. As a professed non-believer in these kinds of projects, Wilcox nevertheless gives it a try. As might be expected, some of these pieces are more faithful to the spirit of the project than others. Ultimately, the poet reverts to his favorite poetic topics:“sex, death and politics”. And why not? What else is there?
Cheryl Rice’s, "Moses Parts the Tulips,” specifically refers to the statue of Moses leading his flock. That is the centerpiece of Albany’s Washington Park and their annual tulip festival celebration. The opening poem, “My Central Avenue” introduces the reader to the specific landmarks of the city which appear and reappear in the poems. “Reading at the Q, Memorial Day” evokes the vibrant reading scene in the area that began at a converted-to-a-counterculture-legend, White Tower Restaurant, rechristened the QEII. With characteristic dark humor and a sharp eye for the lush details of Smallbany life, Moses truly does part the tulips. A fine art cover by local artist Kristin Day compliments the poems.
Both titles are available for $6 postage included. For these chapbooks and information on other available titles, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Dan Wilcox at 280 South Main Avenue, Albany, N.Y. 12208
T.K. Splake, a selection of recent titles: ”only in my dreams” prose memoir with exquisite black and white photographs by the author of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan where the well-into-his-70’s, forever young at heart (despite his pacemaker) author, lives, writes, hikes and fishes.
“coming home” typical short line, staccato paced Beat poems. “coming home” continues the portrait, the odyssey of the artist as an older man and how he transformed himself from Tom Smith, stuck in a stifling marriage, tenured professor’s job with nothing new to offer but an endless succession of PBR’s, to T.K. Splake. Presa S Press.
“gathering of poets,” with fine color art by Henry Denander, astute observation of life and times of the poet in short lyrics and longer poems evoking the spirit of Beats in general and Richard Brautigan, in particular.
“Café Rosetta," who is that older guy with the laptop, the black beret, the tattoos and morning coffee typing away in the corner? It’s Splake and his observations are spot on, often humorous but, just as often, brutally accurate, telling it like it is even when what it is, is an air- conditioned nightmare of soulless people and what empty lives they must lead.
“Splake Fishing in America” is the poet’s magnum opus, riffing on the 60’s classic “Trout Fishing in America". “Splake Fishing” brings us to the wilds of Michigan in search of the local varieties of “wild life". Like the original, there are more tongue and cheek concise poems than there is actual fishing. And that’s the way it should be. Presa S Press with a photo of t-shirt bearing the title of the book on it.
Nick Viriglio: A Life in Haiku, edited and introduced by Raffael de Gruttola and with an afterword by Kathleen O’Toole, Turtle Light Press. www.turtlelightpress.com, 137 pages. This retrospective collection is a labor of love, including new (from manuscript) unpublished work, selections from published work, essays by the poet on his craft, and an appreciation of the author. Viriglio was a master craftsman of the form. These poems are precise to the syllable, intricate in ways only a haiku can be and, most of all, expansive. How can a haiku be expansive, a reader might wonder? By expanding the subject matter. Viriglio expresses personal tragedy, the death of a cherished brother in Vietnam (and of his parents) in ways rarely seen, if ever, in this form. While loss and death are common themes in the haiku (for instance, in the collection of ”last words”, “Japanese Death Poems Written by Zen Monks and Haiku Poets on the Verge of Death”), the immediacy of both is so keenly felt in this collection, the sense he expresses feels new.
“deep in rank grass,
through a bullet-riddled helmet:
an unknown flower”
in memory of Lawrence J. Virgilio
And in his typically, restrained way, the most rare species of all, a political haiku:
at the White House steps,
begging for recognition:
This is that almost one of a kind collection that both moves a reader to tears and, if he is so inclined, inspires him to write.
Thanks to Don Wentworth editor of Lilliput magazine and Issa’s Hut blog for suggesting this collection and his recent piece on Austin’s favorite son, the late, great, Albert Huffstickler who, along with Wilma Elizabeth McDaniel, remains one of the most underappreciated, true American folk hero poets.
A word on e-book reading of poetry. At least, two of the collections mentioned above are available as Kindle books (Lockie and Colby). While I don’t want to discourage anyone from buying these books, e-books do not do justice to poetry as the lines have to be changed, sometimes in bizarre ways, to accommodate the screen. This is less obvious in the books mentioned but positively mind boggling if you were to attempt something like “The Marlowe Papers” a 400 plus page novel in iambic pentameter. The sample I read of Marlowe was like reading Joyce in a foreign language you don't know, like Swedish. Regardless, you have to literally guess where the poet wanted her line breaks in all cases; not something that heightens the reading experience.
Bob Sharkey, “Surface of Sunrise” Benevolent Bird Press (check out the Tyson poem, it’s a technical knockout).
“Prometheus Firestarter” by Robert Head.
“Birds in the Morning Bear Me Away” by Robert Head.
Rootdrinker Institute Newsletter plus mini a chapbook from benevolent Bird Press, “I Scrub My Eyes” by Rachel Ikins and a chapbook, “The Great Wall of Ken and other poems by Timothy Lake and editor Alan Casline’s, “To and From the City of London” (poems with photos).
Various handout sheets by Mark Sonnenfeld and others. Marymark Press.
ayaz daryl Nielsen, "tumbleweed still tumbling," American haiku both wry and humane.
“Poems for the Homeless and the Goldfish Follies” by Ed Galing.
“Songs for Oblivion” Luis Cuauhtemoc Berriozabal. Propaganda Press.
“Disequilibrium” Arnold Skemer. Propaganda Press.
“Girl Friend & Other Mysteries of Love” Charles P. Ries. Propaganda Press.
“Beautiful Days” Bob Arnold. Longhouse.
Neil de la Flor and Maureen Seaton, “Sinead O’Connor and Her Coat of a Thousand Bluebirds”. Firewheel Editions.
“Ten Shaker Vortex Poems”, Charles Plymell. Bottle of Smoke.
“ransom notes,” tina andry, very cryptic, often wry, tongue in cheek poem. Accents Publishing.
“Dead Horses” Joan Colby, adjectives that occurred while reading this terrific collection:
elemental, brutal, unflinching, harsh, unforgettable. Future Cycle Press.
“Coffee House Confessions, Ellaraine Lockie, The poet claims no matter where she is in the world, every morning she sits in a coffee house and writes poems. I believe her. And what wonderful poems they are. Silver Birch Press.