Southern California Poetix


Volume 4 Issue 6

Poetry & Spoken Word Gateway

October, 2005


Poetry CD Reviews

Welcome to a new column in Poetix. Our Senior Editor G. Murray Thomas has put together the latest CD's in our craft for your ultimate listening pleasure (once you get the CD that is). We will provide listening selections when available.

By G. Murray Thomas

Halflife Crisis

Collin Kelley


Collin Kelley writes knowingly about loss. He describes various forms of loss — the loss of old loves, of death, the inevitable losses that result from the passage of time. All are movingly evoked on this CD. Kelley focuses on details which make us feel his losses. The message erased from an answering machine, the silences in an early morning diner, and a sign in a store window reading “Will be back shortly” all evoke relationships gone sour. The sight of a deserted power plant outside London represents the potential of the relationship which is ending as they ride a train past it. These details are what make these poems powerful. The specific images and actions draw us into the poems, let us see and feel the emotions Kelley is experiencing. If there is a weakness on this CD, it is this emphasis on what is missing, not what is present. The relationships have all ended; there is little about the joys of new love, or the drama of the breakups.


The two strongest pieces, “Sex in My Parents’ House” and “Why I Want to Be Pam Grier,” attempt to get away from this notion of loss, but it still pervades them.


“Sex in My Parents’ House” manages to explore his parents dawning awareness of his homosexuality through (and I’m not kidding here) the image of shag carpeting. Specifically, sex on the shag carpet. Yet it still ends up looking back wistfully at his youthful relationships, now ended.


“…Pam Grier” celebrates the film star with humor and devotion. But it too is as much about what Kelley lacks in his life as it is about what she represents. But maybe that’s just my interpretation, colored by the poems which have come before it. As a stand-alone piece, it is a glorious hoot of fandom.


These are minor complaints. Halflife Crisis is a moving and powerful selection of spoken word.

Ars Poetica

Nus eht ot pirt/Trip to the Sun

Totem Maples



My first impression listening to Totem Maples was of those spoken word interludes which used to show up on cheesy pop songs in the 60’s. Where the singer took a break from the song to talk about truth, beauty and walking in the rain.


At first I think was simply the tone of poet Larry Handy’s voice, combined with the gentle backing of guitar and piano, which evoked these memories. But I realized there was a deeper similarity. Those interludes always aimed for some general profundity. And that is what I found throughout these two discs: generalized “profundity.”


Handy loves general words — poetry, love, beauty, music, jazz, rain, the night sky, stars and moon. He repeats these words over and over throughout both discs. At times the poems seem to be nothing more than variations on these words. (In fact, it wasn’t long before I wondered if Handy is even capable of writing a poem with using the words “poet” or “poetry”.)


This overuse of general words creates very generalized poetry. It sounds profound, but it’s really all shimmering surface. I tried repeatedly to grasp the depths of these poems, but there was nothing to grab onto. My thoughts just slid off their generalized surfaces. Here is a sample:


“I go out under stars to become poetic. Arisen with love, I see Her face in the sky so sweeter when not around me and funny how verses perfect under relaxation. To be in love with the silent night and her stars above me, I can only awaken to a sweet subtle grace, with gentle winds cupping me in her palms. I never thought I’d write a poem tonight having a conversation with the cool of an airy night’s wind, and here I am dreaming of a woman who dreams not of me and wishing upon a woman like I wish upon stars...”


See what I mean? It sounds pretty, but on examination, it really means less than it seems to. (My definition of good poetry is poetry which, when studied, reveals more than it seemed to mean initially.)


Not that I found nothing to like on these discs. A couple of the cuts on “Ars Poetica” did have something new to say. “Gethsemane” examines how people approach God with an honest and critical eye. “(The Almighty) Jazzmonad” takes on the personas of various jazz instruments to find the power of music (although the piece would be stronger accompanied by an actual trumpet and saxophone, rather than the same “dramatic” scratching which shows up elsewhere on the album).


Overall, these albums are very well produced. The music, a combination of new age-y guitar and piano and hip-hop beats, complements the poetry quite well. However, like the poetry it is pleasant, but rarely challenging.


Which, in the end, is the essence of these CDs. I’m sure Totem Maples think of their work as challenging and thought-provoking, but I found it more comforting and reassuring. The message is that truth, beauty and love do exist in our world. And poetry can be the medium to find and celebrate them. Which is a message we can all stand to hear sometimes.










Listen to The Prime Spot Radio at at 10 pm on the 1st Friday of every month for my poetry show.

G. Murray Thomas


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