Books Received & Acknowledged
Jack Phillips Lowe, Jupiter Works on Commission, Middle Island Press, 54 pages, 2015. Available from Amazon $9- .
Jack’s latest book is a collection of character poems. Each one is short, pithy, and an often amusing glimpse, of ordinary working people in their natural habitat. Their habitat being: on the job, at bars, at home, wishing they were somewhere else. Many are sad sacks, bluff and blowsy, but all of them vivid. There is a recurrent persona, Buchman, who takes us to the hangouts, the job, the local where he is seen hustling blonde bimbos, getting smashed, and generally bemoaning his Fate as a born loser. You are more likely to see references to Miley Cyrus, or classic TV Dramas from the 50’s, than the works of The Master poets. Don’t be surprised, though, if Jack sneaks a fast, high hard one by you now and again. I enjoyed these poems and I see no reason why anyone else wouldn’t either.
Donald Lev, Where I Sit, Presa Pres, firstname.lastname@example.org, 86 pages, 2015. $15.95
The prolific Mr. Lev is one of those deceptively simple raconteur’s, who can lull you into a state of hynogogic wonder, then deliver a knock out punch with a swift combination of lines that leave you stunned, then, amazed. I’ll quote two brief pieces in full as a sample of Lev’s style:
Poem for Poetry Month
April is the wettest month;
Cruel, maybe, too.
But it’s only Time.
Poem in Late October
The light’s disappearing faster now
In more ways than one.
I’ll leave the enumeration
To anyone who wants to do it.
Lev is the long time editor and publisher of Home Planet News, a journal he began in New York with his late wife, the poet Enid Dame. He’s been a cab driver in the City, worked as a messenger and had a brief, but memorable, cameo in the underground classic film, “Putney Swope”, as, what else? The Poet. I am drawn to Donald’s “movie poems”, a project he began many years ago, and continues here, using his cinema viewing experiences as springboards for poems. He is indeed, as a previous, NYQ book suggests, A Very Funny Fellow.
Bob Arnold, The Woodcutter Talks, Longhouse, Longhousepoetry.com, 225 plus pages, copiously illustrated, 2015, $20 plus postage.
Bob Arnold is a true jack of all trades. He is an artisan/builder in rural Vermont where he runs Longhouse Press and bookstore/ mail order business with his wife, Susan. He also writes poetry, is the literary executor of, Lorin Niedecker, Pommy Vega and Cid Corman.
Over the years he has published books of essays about the craft building trade, love poems to his lifelong partner, meditative poetry in many forms, and now, what I would call his, magnum opus, The Woodcutter Talks. Literary influences are many, but the pervading one, particularly in the opening sections, is Cid Corman; brief, Zen like poems of the natural world, sometimes humorous, often times, simply terse and descriptive of a moment. Reading these forces you to pause, stop, and consider a fleeting place in time.
The central section deals with the suicide of his beloved sister. Arnold states, basically: this happened and we need to talk about it. These are brave, unflinching, honest poems, that touch us in the deepest way.
Throughout this eloquent collection, the simplest poems speak volumes, there are photos of the logging and building trade. and tales from practitioners. This is an assemblage, as much as, it is a collection of a life spent plying trades and it deserves a large, appreciative audience.
Daniel Crocker, The One Where I Ruin Your Childhood, online chapbook from Sundresspublications.com, 24 pages, 2015 (no charge).
Crocker locates his collection on Sesame Street, emphasizing the street aspect of the show’s concept. There is innocence and simplicity to the work but with a very real undercurrent of darkness that slowly takes over this brief collection.
In the first poem, “Welcome to Fantasy Island”: “You are either God or a god/ in your angel suit/ You even fought the Devil once/who, as I always expected,/ looked just like Roddy McDowell…..” Having never seen “Fantasy Island” I can infer the humor in the piece “What the hell is tattoo?” I guess he is the small person in a tuxedo but beyond that…..philosophical question for the TV generation of the late 70’/80’s…..
I am, however, much more familiar with Sesame Street, as my own children were reared on it in the show’s infancy back in the early 70’s. I can truly confess I never would have imagined a poem that equally references Snuffleupagus, Nietzsche, Schopenhauer and Big Bird. Somehow it all makes sense We live in that kind of world now.
I was less taken by the longish (for this short collection) story “Brutal”, which details a suppressed memory of a childhood rape. It is central to the darkness and the undercurrent Crocker is building, but I would have preferred a couple of short, or a few short poems, using the pieces of the story, to the actual story itself. I was however, quite taken with the title poem which concludes the chapbook. Check it out. Sesame Street will never be the same for you after this collection
Frank Montesonti, Hope Tree, Black Lawrence Press, wwwblacklawerence.com, 86 pages, 2013, $11.95.
What can you say about a book like this? Imagine if you Googled: pruning apple and fruit trees, and came across a nice, concise article of, How Tos, and then you exploded the words so that they are all over the page, with lots of easy-on-the eye space, but with no apparent rhyme or reason to the breakage. Add a few crude, but informative drawings, and you would have this book. Is it poetry? Well, there are two pieces that have the concision, method, and effect of poetry, but on the whole it feels more like an informative gimmick. I soldiered on through the piece, and was wryly amused at times, but wondered, when is enough, enough? If you condensed the piece to a prose format, added a few articles: the and an etc., plus the drawings, and you are back at the Google article, at one quarter of the size and for free.
P.W. Covington, Sacred Wounds, Slough Press, sloughpressbooks.com, unpaged (roughly 125 plus pages), no price listed, 2015.
Covington was an army brat who later served in the Air Force. His list of jobs shows a peripatetic existence, no doubt a restless, rootless early life, that contributed to this sense of always looking for something else. Wherever he has been and been doing,( and he has done a lot, in his forty something years, more than most of us in two lifetimes) he has kept his eyes open, and written down his impressions.
Covington is a no bullshit writer period. He is for the downtrodden; his bio includes citations for time served in prison and jail, and he lives by the Howard Cosell edict of “telling like it is”. This may offend some readers, could be enough too piss off the pope,
“And, fuck your dollar, too
And fuck the fact that fuck is the
Only fucking word that is true.”
Now, some would argue that this selection is not fit for poetic expression, is not poetry at all. But in the context of the poem, in the context of the life he is describing, there is some real truth in it. In fact, maybe a truer poetic expression, than any number of academic papers and finely wrought formal poems on the subject of dispossession (if you could find any, that is). There is a certain sameness in reading Covington. Of course, when you’ve been jerked around, abused, and fucked over by professionals, you tend to be angry. You should be angry. After all we live in an era where chicken hawks and deserters send our soldiers to war under false pretenses and for corporate profit. Covington is the kind of soldier who ends up on the front lines. His poetry is the front lines.
Marie Aragon, When Desert Willows Speak, H. Lummox Press, PO Box 5301, San Pedro CA 90733, lummoxpress.com,43 pages $12, 2015.
It would be difficult to find two more different winners of the same book contest, in consecutive years than Aragon’s book, and last, year’s winner, by John Sweet. That would be a good thing. Where Sweet has a rip your skin off, in your face style, Aragon approach is more subtle and probing, as if she were taking a scalpel to expose what lies within instead of a knife that inflicts a wound. She is a highly visual poet, sensuous and lyrical, with a carefully chosen, fluid line. Her poems are never facile or sentimental. There is a fine sense of the ineffable, of loss lurking in the shadows of even the least presupposing, most beautiful surroundings; she senses the spirit in the heart and in the place and expresses it. An excerpt from the title poem, excerpted on the book jacket gives a sense of Aragon’s style,
“Alone in Florida, your wounded
spirit and body heals.
If you hear a whisper
from westerly winds-
winged-bird of my soul
listen for desert willow wisdom:
anchor roots deeply,
bend gently in the wind,
reach for the sun.”
The Lummox series is one that merits watching, given the auspicious beginning this work exemplifies.
Mike James, The Year We Let the House Fall Down, Aldrich Press, kelsaybooks.com, 67 pages, $14-, 2015.
James’s book is a true poetic miscellany. By that, I mean, he eschews a single thematic or stylistic methodology. The work collected here represents many moods and intellectual preoccupations. The witty cover is an excellent guide to the poet’s style, which often has a wry overtone that is undercut by a serious intent. The house, on the cover, is precariously balanced on a tree. It will eventually fall but, as of yet, remains on a perch. On the stuffed to overflowing mailbox nearby, a cat sits watching, waiting as cats will, for what happens next. The unstated question is will the house fall now? Or will the cat simply become bored, cease watching, and fall asleep, as cats inevitably will?
One of the poets, closest to James in this collection, is Charles Simic. James does not have the oblique, often jarring surrealist bent to his language, but often accomplishes the same kind of effect as Simic does. In the title poem, dedicated to one of my favorite poets, Joan Colby, we see James at his best,
stayed on the front porch
a mash of orange
water soaked bills
old love letters
old pleas wouldn’t open
grass grew and grew
never got tall enough
to cover what we
James’s poetic domicile is a place well worth visiting.
Victor Henry, What They Wanted, FutureCycle Press, futurecycle.org Paperback 47 pages 10.95, kindle, 57 pages 2.99, 2015.
It is not unusual to hear a Vietnam vet answer the question, “Why were you in that war?” with, “I was drafted.” Henry would be one of the unfortunate ones who was conscripted against his will. There were, literally, hundreds of thousands of young men, just like him, who found themselves forcibly removed from their lives, packed off to boot camp, and sent overseas to a place they only had vague ideas about. Many of them, like Henry, knew virtually nothing about the war, and could have cared less about who was fighting or why.
During his tour of duty In-country, Henry saw more than his share of combat. He discovered, as men art war inevitably do, that they were fighting for each other, not for their country. The enemy was, simply, the other guys, whoever they might be. It only got personal when your foxholes buddies started getting killed, captured, or wounded. But fight you must. As one, peace loving, young veteran I knew in graduate school said, in response to a hostile inquiry of “Why did you fight?” “It was a war. Fighting was what you did to stay alive. The other guys were trying to kill us so we tried to kill them first. It doesn’t get any more basic than that.”
As we now know, that war didn’t end once a soldier was sent home. Often soldiers would be in a combat zone one week, and the next, in an airport in California. Small wonder guys had a hard time adjusting. Henry depicts his PTS, something he lives with to this day, as vividly as he does the battles he fought. You truly can take the man away from the war, but you can never take the war out of the man.
This book is more than a simple battle narrative, but an overview from receiving the fateful: “Greetings and Salutations from your draft board” notice, to Basic, overseas into the field and back home again. Younger people, who have never lived under the threat of conscription, should read this book if only to learn, “this could have happened to me if I lived in another time.” It is so much easier to fight wars when you have nothing personal at stake and an all “volunteer army”. Though, of course, anyone in our army who were Stop Lossed during the Iraq conflict might question the validation of the notion of voluntary service. Henry, in What They Wanted, is an Everyman for our times, a warrior who returned with a vital story to tell.
Marc Frazier, Each Thing Touches, Golden Lyre Press, Goldenlyrepress.com, 103 pages, 2015, no price listed.
As I went through this collection for the second time, trying to form a deeper appreciation (and it is a collection that bears more than one close reading) I was looking for a connection suggested by the title. My first impression was of a wide variety of diverse subjects and styles. I was moved by “Maiden”, a poem that describes acts of altruism for Japanese women damaged by atomic bombs that goes horribly wrong in ways no one could have imagined. I was next troubled, in a completely different way, by the Cheeveresque poem that follows, four short long lined sections, each containing a different kind of damaged life. Later, in the same section, I was intrigued by the wonderful poem about Vesalius and the first anatomy lessons. Here Frazier poses elemental questions about the nature of Man. The piece delves into religious, biological and philosophical realms, all of them equally compelling, and expertly handled.
Each thing in this collection does, indeed, connect. In the third section Frazier uses the masterful French movie, “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, a movie whose theme revolves around a doomed love affair as a metaphor for the modern age, linking it to the poetry chain he is assembling:
“I am Nevers, you Hiroshima
I can teach you how one goes on
when one should have died.”
Hiroshima Mon Amour
to “ a scrap of language,
connects me with you.”
then, to the magnificent, “The Suicide’s Wife in Yoga Class”. In this poem Frazier has the wife of the suicide lamenting the person who should not have died (in the wife’s opinion) but who did. The wife’s anger cannot be contained, but her life goes on, albeit with Absolut and pills. In the next poem, the women in it, “… slips into glamorous/ disguises; one of them herself.” Life is all a long loop of connections, missed, made, and dreamed of, and Frazier is the masterful poet who sees them all.
Jonathan K. Rice, Killing Time, Main Street Rag, mainstreetrag.com, Paperback 92 pages, $14- plus p/h. 2015.
It is only fitting that the next book in the review pile should belong to Jonathan K. Rice, as his fine art work graces the cover of Frazier’s book. Rice is the long time editor of Iodine Literary Journal, a poetry only print journal that is about to publish a final double issue. Besides his considerable talent as an artist, Rice is an excellent poet. As might be expected from an artist, he has a good eye for detail, though his poems are not overly elaborate or lush with adjectives. In fact, if anything, his poetry tends toward the spare side, with necessary coloration for effect. A reader senses a strong sense of spirituality in the work and the closeness of family and friends as essential to his everyday and creative life. As we are all basically killing time on this earth, a reader would be well served to share some of his remaining time with Rice’s latest collection.
T.K. Splake, calumet air force base, email@example.com, paperback 43 pages no price listed.
Splake, by Splake Transcendent Zero Press, transcendentzeropress.org 109 pages, $11- 2015
The irrepressible and seemingly, inexhaustible, Mr. Splake aka Thomas Smith, has two new books to add to the impressive total he has been amassing at an astonishing rate over the years. The first is a largely photographic essay of the abandoned air force base in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Splake depicts the interior ruins, and the more than slightly surreal exterior, of what remains of the once massive base. He adds a fine, lyrical seven-page poem to the mix, with his impressions of this place, that might otherwise be totally forgotten.
Splake by Splake, is a mixture of his ongoing artistic autobiography and a kind of dream diary evoking some of his literary heroes: Hemingway, Bukowski, Kerouac, and Brautigan. He brings the book all the way back home to his beloved Rosetta Café where he has his daily “existentials” (coffee). At the café he drinks his mug, waited on by a young woman he fantasizes a life with, and quietly observes other customers or strollers passing by outside the picture window. The poet muses and the women come and go talking of Soap Operas and Reality TV.
Some of these “quasi-dream poems”, a technique previously employed by Splake, relate his development as an artist and poet, co-mingled with the spirits of those who inspired him. Of particular note is the long, “beat”, Kerouac sequence, which has a jaunty, on the road quality (complete with Burma Shave ads) that carries you right down the virtual, literary highway with Jack and has crew.
The piece, “poem for alastor”( a half man, half animal who lives in the woods and is worshipped for his intellectual beauty) imagines an old angler spoken of by others as the old guy with a huge gray beard, a man who knows many secrets of the woods and streams and the mind, a man who is both Splake and his imagined spiritual self. Splake continues to face The Dark. He may feel cheated by that “rat bastard time” but remains, in his 80th year, to be making the most of every moment he can, as these latest collections amply shows.
Allison Thorpe, Dorothy’s Glasses, Finishing Line Press, finishing linepress.com 27 pages, $12.49 , 2015.
Thorpe’s compact, but excellent collection of narrative, historically based poems, takes us to the Lake District in England to visit with the Wordsworths, Dorothy and William. Like other sisters of noted intellectuals, such as Alice James, Dorothy was only fairly recently reclaimed from her auxiliary role as adjunct to a revered, better known, sibling. The publication of her journals and letters, show a woman with great intellectual capacities and curiosity, who, no doubt, contributed to William’s poetic endeavors as much more than an amanuensis.
Following an autobiographical poem of Thorpe’s trip to Dove Cottage with her daughter, she introduces us to the Wordsworths at home. The sibling’s relationship could be described as, symbiotic, perhaps overly close, but essential; emotionally and intellectually. His often fraught relationship with neighbor, and former collaborator, Coleridge, with whom Wordsworth would fall out over the former’s drug use, is covered in depth in a series of spare interior monologue poems.
Later on, what are we to think of Dorothy’s peculiar reaction to William’s marriage?
“I gave him the wedding ring-with how deep a blessing! I took it from my forefinger where I had worn it the whole of the night before-he slipped it again onto my finger and blessed me fervently”
Dorothy Wordsworth,The Grasmere Journals
Thorpe’s poem “The Wedding” offers an intriguing insight into the mind of the sister who may have felt slighted by her brother’s defection to another woman’s arms.
The second of the two section welds the personal, with the historical journals, and the poetic works of Wordsworth. The effect is extraordinary and personal, as is this well, researched, all too brief final highlight of a reading year.
Dan Wilcox, Gloucester Notes, Foothills Publication, Foothills Publications PO Box 68, Kanona, NY 14856, foothillspublishing.com, 22 pages, $10.00, 2015.
Gloucester Notes is another all too brief, but excellent collection of personal reflections by a well respected photographer, poetry event blogger, and poet, Albany’s Dan Wilcox. The core poem of the book is, “Gloucester Notes (2012)”, an evocation of the poetic spirit of Charles Olson, whose magnificent Maximus Poems was set in Gloucester. In four short, ruminative poems, and a fifth, “In Search of Olson’s Tomb”, Wilcox dwells with the spirit of the gone poet, seeing through the eyes of an artist (Marsden Hartley) and the photographer (himself), the place that so moved Olson to create his transformative epic. Other poems in the collection relate to family trips, watching his children as they grow and become adults. Wilcox also wryly observes his own aging process with two amusing additions to his Birthday Poems series,
“The Full Moon arrives for Happy Hour rippling the rocks
& surf, a present this birthday I cam all this way here for.”
from “Birthday Poem 2013”
Malcolm Ritchie, small lines on the great earth, Longhouse Publishers, Longhouse, PO Box 2454, West Brattleboro VT 05303, longhousepoetry.com , 90 pages, $15-, 2014.
Ritchie’s poems were written after a long silence, where he pursued any number of professions around the globe, leading a kind of vagabond existence until he ended up in Japan. Much like Cid Corman, these poems have a Japanese haiku like structure. They feel, both earthy, and spiritual. The best poems are rooted in the thematic Haiku tradition of: an evocation of nature, an image, and a resolution of some kind, often spiritual in nature. All in three lines. Oddly, the less traditional ones, the less “worked” poems, rooted in everyday life, generally fall flat for me, seeming forced, by comparison, to the more regular, formal ones. Still this is a collection that is worth perusal, particularly by readers who are interested in shorter, not quite strictly, traditional forms. Publisher Bob Arnold also recently released a memoir by Ritchie, covering those years when he wasn’t writing poetry, which promises to be a fascinating read.
John Surowiecki, Missing Persons, Encircle Publications, PO Box 187, Farmington ME 04938, http://encirclepub.com/product/missing-persons/, $12.95, 18 pages, 2015.
Missing Persons is the award winning chapbook of Encircle Publication Chapbook Contest. Each poem evokes a “missing person” or persons, often in formal verse. While these are largely autobiographical pieces, the poet slyly evokes other poets. A prime example would be “An Ordinary Evening in New Haven”, which could have a subtitle: after Wallace Stevens, but does not. The poem “At the United Mine Workers Monument to the Victims of the Ludlow Massacre, Ludlow, Colorado” is a moving, personal testament to those working people slaughtered for having the audacity to seek fair wages and better living conditions. The infamous Hartford Circus Fire victims, one in particular, are vividly recreated, conjuring unforgettable images that Stewart O’Nan also rendered in his non-fiction book about that horrible fire. Suroweicki is an accomplished poet of range, wit and understanding. This reader wishes there were more poems to read and justify the rather steep price for such a slender volume.
Adam Kirsch, Emblems of the Passing World, Other Press, otherpress.com, 115 pages $24.95 hb, 2015.
This is a book I tried hard to like. What a wonderful idea: to respond with poetry to the magnificent photographer August Sander’s work. For those unfamiliar with Sander, he was the premier chronicler of the German people in between the two world wars. His portraits are relatively simple in design, concentrating solely on the human figures that dominate each frame. Sander once explained to his grandson, also a photographer, that he,” never deliberately made anyone look bad, that was up to each individual to do so on his or her own.” Sander hoped to collect a series of photographs of every type of German he could find, a project he was destined never to complete. The honesty of his work is implicit in the fact that the Nazis destroyed most of the plates for the series, as they did not portray the Aryan race as it was supposed to be, that is, in a flattering, idealistic light.
Given this background, I begin reading Kirsch’s book, cutting him slack for using a rhyming form, that becomes more and more irritating as the collection proceeds. I confess to disliking just about All modern rhyme, as it feels false, forced and, well, just so 19th century. Still, I am rolling with the cards dealt. The second poem, “The Butcher’s Apprentice” has some insight that promises more of the same later. If only that were the case. Of the following forty odd poems, perhaps, two, maybe three on the outside, succeed and move the reader. The one that worked the best, is the truly odd, “My Wife in Joy and Sorrow,” where the artist’s wife is holding her twin babies in their white gowns, one dead and one alive. It is a tossup which is more moving, Kirsch’s two-part poem, or the photo.
None of the other poems remotely come close to this heartfelt piece. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest, Kirsch sometimes totally misreads the photos, either to create an image that fits into a preconceived thematic issue inherent in the work, or from plain short sightedness. For instance, Kirsch suggests that “The Clergyman and his Wife” shows a man with a tie loosened at the neck which is contrary to what the photo shows. No man of such airs, and self-regard, would be caught dead, for all eternity, with a loose collar and this pretentious man is no exception. Most of these misreadings occur toward the end of the collection suggesting what? Perhaps, Kirsch is struggling to finish his collection and becomes less diligent in his readings? Or just a preconceived notion that must have all of its parts in the right order? Whatever. Despite my best efforts to the contrary, I thoroughly disliked, both the overall effort to reveal a larger context, and the individual pieces that are the components.
Janet Buck, Dirty Laundry, Vine Leaves Press, 140 pages, 2015, $17.99.
Janet Buck is a courageous poet who makes the most of what life has to offer. Saddled by a medical dictionary’s worth of medical woes, Buck refuses to be defeated by her infirmities. The fact that the book Dirty Laundry exists, is a testimony to her grit and perseverance, not to mention, her considerable poetic gifts. While much of the work in the book deals with illness, either directly or tangentially, this is not a depressing or glum book but, rather, one that celebrates life in its fullness and limitations. There is joy and humor here, as well as, suffering and regret, but this too, is the stuff of life.
Jeffrey Brown, The News, Copper Canyon Press, 160 pages , 2015, $16.00
Anyone familiar with the PBS News Hour knows Jeffrey Brown as the enthusiastic Arts interviewer who is the rare person who not only clearly loves his job but relishes his assignment. When he is on a mountain ridge with Jim Harrison, talking about the latter’s latest book, or having a sit down with Rae Armantrout in her home, or a walk around with Natasha Tretheway, you have the feeling that, not only has Brown done his homework, as in read their books, but read them closely. No intern summaries of a book for Brown, as is the standard for most interviews in TVland.
And now this book of poetry shows why Brown is such a student of contemporary poetry. He writes his own. The good news in The News, is not only is Brown knowledgeable about his subject, but a proficient practitioner of his chosen Art. The introductory poem, exchanging observations on language and poetry with a porter in an airport, sets the tone for a worldwide tour of Brown’s peripatetic life as a reporter for Public Television News. Besides the more contemporary events, Brown chronicles his life as a son, a husband and as a father. Unlike most “celebrity collections” of puff poetry, (I am thinking of the “poetic works” of say Jimmy Stewart, Jimmy Carter, Leonard Nimoy…) Brown is a Real poet, one who could have followed a course as writer but happened to have chosen, The News, instead, as his life’s work.
Bob Arnold, The Cup, Longhouse, poetry.com, 109 pages, 2016, $15.00.
Barely a month goes by these days without editor and publisher Bob Arnold releasing a new book, either of his own or someone else’s. This latest collection continues Arnold’s fascination with short poetry forms that he uses to great effect much like his mentor, Cid Corman. As with all good short forms, the poems are highly imagistic but self-contained and the best leave you with a distinct impression.
Night after night
by the wood fire
we bathe from a cup
As always, the book is expertly crafted in a glossy paperback format easy of the eyes. I highly recommend sampling a title from Longhouse and once you do, I dare you not to order another.
Tony Gloeggler, Until the Last Light Leaves, NYQ Press, nyq.org,136 pages, 2015, $16.95.
In recent years we have hearing about autism on a daily basis. While the condition, once thought rare, was often undiagnosed, or misdiagnosed, has become all too familiar. The professional people who deal with the patients, especially the severe cases that require specialized care, go largely unrecognized. We hear about how schools and parents are coping with their afflicted children, but what if they are profoundly disabled? What happens to the children when they become adults and require constant care? If they are fortunate, they end up in a place like the one Tony Gloeggler has managed for over twenty years.
His experiences with the profoundly mentally disabled and severely autistic, is the core of his work. No one I know of, handles this subject with greater care and empathy than Tony does. It takes a special kind of person to spend a lifetime working with profoundly limited people. Tony describes himself, in his poetry and elsewhere, as an introverted person, shy even, someone who does not easily “have fun”, who likes to leave his emotions on the page rather than overtly expressing them in person. He is also a person of infinite patience, compassion, and empathy as his readers and friends are well aware. Having these gifts enables him to do his professional work and to tackle, as no other poet to my knowledge has, the autistic world.
One child in particular has become the focus of much of his work in recent years. It clearly pains Tony that the child he considers “like a son”, (the child of his former girl friend) has moved to another state not easily accessible from Queens. Like many New Yorkers, Tony does not drive, nor does he own a car. Each visit to see the young man now is a journey, not easily organized and undertaken.
This brief background adds poignancy to the already delicate balance Tony manages between loss, yearning for lost love of the child’s mother, and the child. Few writers can manage this difficult balance of conflicted emotions with the dexterity that Tony does. His poems are never maudlin, always filled with compassion, and empathy, always imbued with a sly, wry sense of humor, that refuses to take himself all too seriously, except with regard to the boy he loves.
It would do the collection an injustice to suggest that the only poetic theme in the booksdeals with this one subject. Tony explores what it was like growing up in The City, playing hoop, little league, first love and all the usual vagaries of growing up. His fraught relationship with a distant, often hostile father is explored, as well as, a more loving one with his mother. Tony’s relationship with his brother is a mixed bag, involving the latter’s drunk driving episodes and subsequent incarceration and other small crimes and misdemeanors. Ultimately, a brother is a brother and blood is blood.
I will say it now and I will say it again, Tony Gloeggler is one of the best, unrecognized, narrative poets in the country. His work reflects his honesty as a person. He tackles difficult subjects with honor and a no bullshit, unadorned style, that rarely fails to move the reader. Gloeggler proves again that real Art can be made from a subject as unlikely as mental incapacitation and that love can sustain a life. What could be more moving than Tony coaxing a farewell, brief, half-hug from an autistic teenager who hates physical contact of any kind?
Two intriguing prose pieces by Rich Ives:
The Balloon Containing the Water Containing The Narrative Begins Leaking.
Sharpen, illustrations by Jack Callil, Diagrams by Nils Davey.
Ruth Moon Kempher, Retrievals, Presa Press.
John Amen, Strange Theater, NYQ Books.
Kevin Powers, Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, Little Brown.
Alan Catlin, Last Man Standing, Lummox Press.
Gene McCormick, Big City Nighttime Stories, Middle Island Press.
Jennifer Lagier, Scene of the Crime, Evening Street Press.