Poetry for Southern California
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. And from time to time Murray may review books, or broadsides or god knows what...
I Come From
CD by Rich Ferguson
In his poetry, Rich Ferguson starts with the simple details of everyday life, and pushes them to absurd levels. Then he uses those absurdities to arrive at profound truths.
He establishes this technique with the very first cut on Where I Come From, "All the Times":
All the times I stuck
something up my nose and couldn't get it out: 2
All the times I said "Underdog" instead of "Under God"
when reciting the Pledge of Allegiance as a kid: 41
15 by accident
26 on purpose....
All the times I yelled for some band other than Lynyrd Skynyrd
to play "Freebird": 6...
All the times I lied to my parents: 3018.
All the times I think they lied to me: 12,644.
The absurdity here is, of course, who would count up these incidents (and how)? The underlying truth is that, however many times we might do these, and everything else we do, it is never enough.
Ferguson continues this practice with cuts such as "L.A. Book of the Dead," which uses the character of different L.A. neighborhoods to describe various karmic conditions; and "Urban Legend," a truly absurd, yet absurdly normal, tale of social status.
Perhaps the apotheosis of the approach is "Every Now Is Everything":
I come from a double back
from one of Cary Grant's acid trips
from a Steve McQueen car chase
and the Mona Lisa's face.
From you sleeping quietly in bed
from the X on Manson's forehead.
From the slow inhale of opium moments
opium moments winding in time
connecting to places deep inside us
places deep inside us which say,
Every moment is a breath
every breath is a word
every word is love
every love is now
every now is everything.
On Where I Come From, Ferguson is accompanied by an accomplished band of musicians (including Paul Garrison on guitar, Jeremy Toback on bass and Butch on drums). Like Buddy Wakefield's CD (reviewed here a couple of months back), the music here is a perfect complement to the poetry. It often rocks out, but pulls back when you need to hear the words. The music is strong enough to allow you to listen to the CD as music, as entertainment or background, but the words are strong enough that they still reach out grab you at times.
This all makes Where I Come From a very strong addition to one's collection of spoken word recordings.
—G. Murray Thomas
Book by Leo Victor Briones
EP Publishing (www.poetremains.com)
What is it that makes a truly great poem? In my mind, it's when the poem makes a transcendental leap, when it expands to become about something much larger than its "subject matter." It's not always easy (or even possible) to explain just how and why a poem does this. It remains one of those "I know it when I see it" things. It is also the primary challenge of the poet.
Leo Victor Briones can certainly write. That is, he can string words together clearly and sharply. But he has trouble with that poetic leap. Most of his poems remain firmly about one thing.
The boulder leans against
the mountainside as if gravity
and the serendipity of an ancient convulsion have brought it here.
Perfectly placed, the bottom corner of the rock
has been sheared off forming a crooked L;
it looks like a crazy beanbag chair from an early 70's movie.
We whisper, "That rock has been like that for millions of years."
Our voices lower, "and that piece must have just given in."
Our voices get even lower "and it's been leaning there ever since."
("Far Out" p. 5)
Briones obviously believes there is some larger meaning to this image, yet I simply don't see it. The passage describes a rock, and it remains about nothing more than a rock.
Briones, it would appear, has worked as a journalist in the past. It shows. It shows in his ability to pick sharp details, which illustrate his point. He can tell a story, capture a scene, delineate a character. But in the end, he has trouble getting beyond those details. The pieces feel more like reporting than poetry.
This is true of "The City of Lost Girls" (p. 46), the centerpiece of the book, which tells the story of the murdered women of Juarez, Mexico. As reporting, it is a powerful tale of incomprehensible horror. But as poetry, it fails to evoke the larger evil he seems to be after.
There are times when Briones come close, when he chooses a metaphor which does resonate and expand. This is true of the opening poem, "Saved" (p. 3):
I spilled blood
all over the grotto
and some clever sojourner
put it in a chalice,
gave a toast
to second chances,
then sewed my heart
with golden thread
and it started beating again.
As this is his first book of poetry, I would not be surprised to see Briones grow as a poet. He certainly has a solid foundation in his use of words. Now he just needs to strive a little harder for the larger truths behind his words.
But for now, the poet remains.... a journalist.
—G. Murray Thomas
Urn: Memoir Dust
Book by Kalamity J
Illustrated by Antonina Gribnikova
Ink Pen Mutations (www.inkpenmutations.com)
Mother's Dust contains four tales of abusive relationships. They are told with an appropriate intensity, through carefully polished images. Yet in the end they still feel thin.
The problem is that all the stories are told from a single perspective, that of the child in the relationship. In the final story, "the New Lesson," that limited perspective is appropriate, and lends power to the story. "The New Lesson" explores the relationship between a mother and daughter through the memory of a day at the beach, when they both alternate between ignoring the other, and then overcompensate with excessive attention.
But that singular perspective cannot sustain the whole book. Too often I found myself wanting to know more of the story, wanting some interior for the characters.
This is especially true of the opening piece, "Christmas Myth," which tells the story of a passionate relationship gone bad. But it is all surface detail. What went wrong is never fully explained. Drugs and alcohol are mentioned, but they feel inadequate (or perhaps just clichéd). The characters are introduced, but never fleshed out. I wanted to know these people, but was only given their surfaces.
Still, within the limits of what they are, these stories do capture some of the horror of such relationships, and the trapped feelings of those within them.
And Kalamity J can get off a good line, such as "They take separate mints, but have the same taste in their mouth." ("Christmas Myth")
Mother's Urn is worth purchasing for the artwork alone. Antonina Gribnikova's illustrations are hallucinatory fantasies which capture the emotions of the writing. The pictures are complex, with an overload of details. On one level, these details draw us, let us get lost in the pictures. But they also capture the overwhelming nature of the outer world, from the child's perspective. In that way, they perfectly illustrate these frightening and claustrophobic tales.
—G. Murray Thomas