A Furnace in the Shadows by Paul Pines
Reviewed by Charles Rammelkamp

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Cover of A Furnace in the ShadowsA Furnace in the Shadows
Dos Madres Press, 2018
$24.95, 486 pages
ISBN: 978-1946017060

Poet Paul Pines died at the age of seventy-seven in June, 2018. This impressive collection of selected poems spanning a career more than half a century long was posthumously published three months later, in September. It’s a truly gorgeous compilation and a fitting tribute, complete with stunning prints of artwork and excerpts from over a dozen collections. Dedicated to his wife and daughter, Carol and Charlotte (“Soulmates”), this book serves as both an introduction to Pines’ work for readers unfamiliar with his poetry, and a comprehensive, loving summary for his followers and intimates.

Known as “the poet of jazz,” Pines owned and ran a jazz club called The Tin Palace, in the early 1970’s, across the street from CBGB. The Tin Palace was the source of many poems as well as a novel, The Tin Angel.  Though a super-serious poet, with references, over his career, to Buddhism, Mayan culture, Jung, Freud, Nietzsche, the mythology of ancient Egypt, and other sources, his humor was also vivid. Take “Homage to Guy Lombardo” from Last Call at the Tin Palace.

You’ve gone
and left the rest of us stuck with it

          New Year
ringing down the windless spaces
of our privacy
                    Auld Land Syne
like a violet gas
over the orchestra pit

Or take “Hitler’s Favorite Trumpet Player” from Taxidancing:

Eddie Jefferson told me that when Hitler

to hear jazz in Paris he looked
for this guy

we see all the time on
Second Avenue

in a brown silk suit gold
cuff links

and a rug on his head with

like the Hartz Mountains. This
morning I spot him

on 5th Avenue
whispering down a damp

Il ne veut passer!”

Eddie Jefferson, the jazz vocalist and innovator, was one of Pines’ favorites, along with Richie Cole, Jimmy Giufre, Steve Swallow, Charlie Mingus and others. Writers like Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Jim Carroll, Patti Smith, Andre Codrescu, Adrienne Rich, Allen Ginsberg and Simon Perchik were also Tin Palace regulars. The jazz and Beat influences are evident in the staggered appearance of his verse on the page, the lines, often just one word in length, swimming on the page like improvisational sax or trumpet notes.

There are so many themes in this collection, from the jazz he loved so much (after he and his family moved up to Glens Falls, he organized a huge jazz festival each year at Lake George), to poems reflecting his background as a psychotherapist (“Two Therapists celebrate the 200th anniversary of New York” from Gathering Sparks is a gem), his travels through Mexico and Central America, his love for his wife Carol and daughter Charlotte (the end note to his Charlotte Songs collection is touching and funny), but it’s the poems that reflect his roots in Brooklyn that are most endearing and provide an introduction to the poet. “Starting at Flatbush” from the Breath collection begins:

near Ebbets Field
       or King Pleasure
     I knew Duke Snyder
Freddie Fitzsimmons’ bar
   on Empire
     upper Ocean Avenue
   where it ran into
     Brighton Beach
   dreaming of hit men
     at the Half-Moon
   foot-long hot dogs
      on the Boardwalk….

You can hear the nostalgia, the celebration of a bygone era. From the same collection, the poem “Weep for Red Barber” continues the theme, an elegy for his youth, a self-conscious echo of Shelley’s famous elegy for Keats, “Adonais” (“I weep for Adonais – he is dead!"). Weep for Red Barber –

he is dead,
who broadcast the names
 & Campanella

as we snuck
into Ebbets Field
on the ice-truck
or waited for
   & Futillo

with self-addressed
post cards
at the side door

Weep for Red Barber
 voice of the
 Brooklyn Dodgers
who called out
my boyhood
in home-runs
and double-plays
for fifteen years
   then retired
   to read
   from Psalms
to the audience
of his old age
that they might
how our days
are measured
in summer nights
by crickets
in the tall grass
of the house
next door

And from the appropriately named 2015 collection, Message from the Memoirist we get the sweet poem, “Baseball” with the lines:

and I cried when they went to LA these Boys of Summer
taking my boyhood with them glue that held Brooklyn together
before everyone moved to Long Island and the world
between Coney Island and the two bridges broke along fault lines
               Ocean Parkway
               Fulton Street
               Flatbush Avenue

The long and eventful life began and in a sense never really left the Brooklyn of his early years, an endless source of inspiration, such that you can imagine what “Heaven” might seem to Paul Pines. A Furnace in the Shadows concludes with the poem, “Museum of the Infinite,” from Gathering Sparks, that surely provides a hint:

The museum of which you speak
has no vanishing point
everything in the open
no hide and seek
for what explains
the journey.

The poem concludes:

I want to stroll this museum
with you old friend
as if we’d been here all along
watch the corridors of our

around portraits
hanging in plain sight
without walls
or frames

There is so much to admire in Pines’ work. This review is only an introduction to this comprehensive collection that is itself an introduction to the entire body of work.