normal, I See Hunger’s Children, Lummox Press, Po Box 5301, San Pedro, CA 90733, www.limmoxpress.com, 130 pages, 2013, $15.
The setting is the Village, the 60’s, on the street, in the cafes, folk music and cigarettes, tea and red wine bottles in straw baskets, candles melting down inside. If you have to ask, “What Village? You weren’t there. And you never will be.
It was the era of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit and rebels without a cause or one who wore a motorcycle jacket and would say, with a straight face in answer to the question , “What are you rebelling against?” “What have you got?”
It was time for setting Blake to music. And Swinburne. Of anti-war movements and social revolution, of Fuck You: A Magazine of the Arts, Mimeos and Broadsides. It was breaking out of the straight jacket of formal prose and poetry, of Post Modern bullshit, with a long sustained Howl! and Coney Islands of the Mind. And normal was on the street writing pieces like “Poem Found In The Ruins of The Cafe Rafio Greenwich Village, 1962-1964”
normal is no tourist, no phony poetaster, Ginsberg riffer, Whitmamesque street boy, but an authentic voice of the street, the real street, singing a song as it was meant to be sung, in a time when such singing was possible. Down the street apiece you might hear Dylan singing his “A Ballad of Thin Man” “And you know something is happening here/ but you don’t know what it is/ do you Mr. Jones?”
normal is the voice of the homeless, the victimized, the disaffected and the disturbed. This brief passage at the end of the section also serves as an introduction to themes he will explore in the remaining two sections of this long overdue, first collection. The poems become more introspective, less lyrical (but not less personal, they are anything but impersonal throughout) more overtly political. And by political, I mean, voicing the concerns of those who often have no voice, the sick and the hungry and the aged. The people governments and politicians suck up to every election cycle and then ignore.
These are poems born of the street, of the vagabond heart, the true restless American spirit that Whitman spoke of when he heard American singing. Too often, now, we hear of singing like the dolphins in an Eliot poem, who do not sing for us. normal sings for us, that is, to the poet in us all and we should listen.
Rebecca Schumejda, Cadillac Men, NYQ Books, PO Box 2015, Old Chelsea Station, N.Y., N.Y.10113, www.nyqbooks.org , 151 pages, $16.95.
Rebecca is all about family as her earlier chapbooks show. Whether it be a meditation of her troubled relationship with her deceased father, planting seeds in small back yard plot at her home with her daughter, with decidedly mixed results, and now, with the publication of her first full length book, “Cadillac Men”. The people of the pool hall she ran with her husband, where their daughter took her first steps, is a large extended family, a home away from home, where we are invited in to share the experience.
This handsomely produced book by NYQ Books, has original art covers by poet/artist Hosho McCreesh, that sets the tone for the poetry inside. The front cover shows an overweight man standing near a row of pool tables highlighted by low overhead lighting, two other men nearby, sitting at counter talking. On the reverse, a young woman, as waitress, busing a café table. The scene is at once immediate and timeless: the Cadillac Men, her regulars, have been and gone and surely return tomorrow.
As we meet the cast of regulars at the pool hall it becomes clear that these people are not simply characters sharing the same destination, aspirations, interests and finally, stories but kin of a kind. The related stories are told with affection, humor and insight, without rancor, but not without deep feeling. There is Dee, Mikey Meatball, Spanish Fly, Wally the Whale, Bobby Balls in Hands and a cast of Cadillac Women whose lives become the substance of this collection:
There are countless stories, some pathetic, some hilarious, some sad; all bar room tragedies in a pool hall. More often than not, tragedies result because of some self-inflicted wound ; a prime example would be Dee stepping out to his get his about-to-give-birth wife some ice cream and stopping for a quick game only to lose the rent money while the ice cream melts in the car.
No wonder this is how the Cadillac Women feel:“Fold time in half, midnight: laundry,
dusting, crocheting. Cold pot roast, carrots,
and potatoes asleep under plastic wrap.
Blue, volume-less, cob-webbed vows,
television glowing, crickets. Waiting.
(from “Cadillac Women”)
The concluding poem relates how Rebecca and her husband, Mark are celebrating their fifth anniversary with a rare night out,“ ………We are holding hands again and
talking, really talking since we left the bar. As we watch the necklace sink,
you say you saw a building in another town, perfect for a pool hall,
and we start to discuss how we’ll do it differently next time.”
(from “Next Time”)
This reader eagerly awaits the next time, whether it involves a pool hall or something completely different, as long as it provides inspiration for a collection such as this one.
Jennifer Lagier, Agent Provocateur.
Allison Benis White, Small Porcelain Heads, Four Way Books.
Louise Mathaes, The Traps, Four Way Books.
Alex Dimitrov, Begging for It, Four Way Books.
Bruce Willard, Holding Ground, Four Way Books.
Yona Harvey, Hemming the Water, Four Way Books.
Robert Head, Prometheus Foreknower.
Katherine Riegel, What the Mouth Was Made For, Future Cycle Press.
Impressive, eclectic collection, a virtuoso poetic performance.
Michele Battiste, Raising Petra, Pudding House.
Slow the Appetite Down, Spire Press.
Ink for an Odd Cartography , Black Lawrence.
Two excellent, “high octane” collections from a poet who continues to amaze with her wide range of expressive language, intellectual content and emotional impact.
Steve Henn chimes in with an intriguing combination of print and vinyl. The print is a chapbook of amusing narratives dedicated to Indiana’s foremost humorist, Kurt Vonnegut and the three Bob’s; two of whom should be readily recognizable to all (Dylan and Hicok- don’t know who Pollard is). Anyway, his “Explanations, Excuses, Definitions, Regrets” poems are generally of a kind: folksy, down to earth, beer drinking regular kind of guy poems, two of which turn up on his vinyl record “I am on Mental Health Pills also available as a download at bandcamp,com/yum.
Have you ever been to a poetry reading where the guy goes on and on and on in a monotonal voice about something so abstruse and uninteresting you want to scream? That is if you could manage to stay awake. Or someone who writes these pretentious, self-important, highly allusive, allegorical poems you lose interest in after the title? Or the one where the guy takes three of his allotted five minute reading time adjusting his seat, the microphone and making stupid comments before he begins reading what could only be described as an endless chapter to a book that will never be published and then goes ballistic when the alarm clock rings and the host pulls the microphone plug? Yes, that actually happened I have witnesses. Well, Steve’s readings are the antidote to those kinds of performances. The recorded pieces are accurately described, as “poems that have received a good response at public readings.” These poems will amuse and entertain you. They aren’t deep or especially learned, but who wrote the rule that poetry readings have to be that way? Listen up, grab a Schlitz and enjoy. On vinyl even, as I did.