James Darman Book Review
by Steve Henn
James Darman, the buddha doesn’t live here. Epic Rites Press. www.epicrites.org. 50 pages. $10 plus shipping.
James Darman’s poems in the buddha doesn’t live here catalogue rot, decay, and futility. The relative permanence of the natural world – repetition of “the cold rain” in the title poem, the stars in other poems, birds that “squawk and cry above” – belie the impermanence of both manmade structures and the human body. Empty wine bottles, abandoned homes with boarded windows, in “Lost in the Garden” “a lifetime / of park benches, of jail cells / of hospital beds, of hotel rooms / of hard floors / of grave earth” leave the speaker alone and accepting, aware of the impermanence of everything but that “grave earth” in which he’ll be laid to rest. He’s not beatific, not Buddha-like. He doesn’t claim enlightenment but he’s not stupid either, accepting his own mortality and the state of decay with which he describes the human world.
The opening poem “A Poem for Bukowski’s Jockeys and my Scrotum,” is the most striking, although, as the poet hits on Bukowski themes anyone vaguely familiar with the small press in the last 40 years or more would know, it’s not exactly the most daring. The homage to Bukowski and lament for the narrator’s physical state describes a world of both delicacy and seediness, finally bringing to light the Epididymitis contracted from the narrator’s prostitute girlfriend, which has swollen his scrotum to “the size of a softball.”
This chap was part of a third mailing of review copies to me from Misfit’s editor Alan Catlin. As with other books and chaps I’ve been perusing, there are some poems that don’t hit the mark. The faux-profundity of “The Emptiness of a Wine Bottle” disappoints, and “A Reminder” that everything that exists will fail, whether animate or inanimate, sounds like the dejected mutterings of a writer who received a bad run of rejection slips all at once. There are several poems that hit the mark, however, like “How My Library Grows,” where a book can be “forest / or / stream / & then . . ./ a book again,” and “Cold Chicken and Wine Blues,” where the flies gathering by his toes give him that sense that “something / is dying / from the / ground / up.”These are stark poems, more or less in the tough guy, no bullshit small press mode of Bukowski or Gary Goude or any number of life-sucks-deal-with-it-and-pass-the-winebottle poets, and the best of them are smart poems that face mortality and decay with grace and calm.