The Transport of Grandma's Yearning Vibrator. By Lynne Savitt. Myshkin Press.
This is one of the best, if not the best, chapbook I have read all year. I've been a huge fan of Savitt's for awhile now, but she has really taken it up a notch this time. These poems are heart-breaking, funny, introspective, angry, and masterfully-crafted. These are the kinds of poems that make me want to write better, that make me want to go back and look at my own stuff, just to convince myself I'm not a hack. From the first poem, Autumn Farewell "i can only love/ you as much as/ i love all the others/ & dear, there have been/ many other than you & him" to the last poem in this collection you will be hooked. Not to sound cliche, but I really couldn't put it down.
--Reviewed by Dan Crocker
The Tear Duct of the Storm. Rebecca Leah Schumejda. 38 pages. Green Bean Press. P.O. Box 237, New York, New York 10013, USA. http://www.greenbeanpress.com Five Dollars.
The first thing I need to do,to be as honest as possible, is to admit that Green Bean Press is the publisher of my books. It's for this reason that I've tried to stay away from reviewing Green Bean Press books--unless they really blow my socks off. Which is exactly what The Tear Duct of The Storm has done.
I've seen, in the past, Rebecca Leah Schumejda's poetry here and there in the little magazines. I've always enjoyed it, but it's never jumped out at me as something special until now. In fact, I haven't seen her poetry lately until I received this book, and my personal feeling is that she has matured into a wonderful poet.
She dedicates this book to her father, and the theme that runs throughout is one of coming to terms with all of that family stuff that effects every single one of us. Plus number one--it's personal and universal at the same time. Take In That House: "A conversation/is never opened/before a bottle/and doesn't/hang around/for breakfast."
Schumejda isn't afraid to experiment with new forms either. With the poem Home, she creates a completely original look on the page while still pounding out a powerful poem. I can't do the form justice here, but the words still speak: "Cause you went back eight times four storms three broken windows/ now that you've felt the foundation shake in different houses/ you try to retrace/ the path taken/ the wind redirects your course."
Plus number two--its original.
Plus number three--nearly every poem hits the mark. I like Eleven Days, To a Woman I Cannot Love , Weeding, and There Was Something I Was Supposed to Do, But, especially. But ever reader will find her or his favorites. I recommend this one.
Reviewed by Dan Crocker
I Kiss the Feet of Angels by A.D. Winans, Butcher Shop Press, 30 West
St., Apt. 1B, Oneonta, NY 13820, 2001, 24 pp., no price.
If you think of A.D. Winans as some kind of tough-guy street poet in San Francisco, some kind of Bukowski clone carrying on the master's work, think again.
In I Kiss the Feet of Angels Winans turns into some sort of Japanese woodcut artist, very controlled, very objective, nothing much from the guts, a lot from the eye...the aesthetically-honed mind.
In "Poem for the Pretender Poets," for example, he comes up with a whole inner-centered aesthetics that brushes aside the whole theatrical poet-audience link ("dancing for an audience") and concentrates on poet
as communicator, yes, but hidden, anonymous, art for its own sake and also as sort of almost scriptural uplift:
be like Li Po and sail your poems
on streams and puddles written
be like the anonymous poets of Poland
during the height of martial law
dropping their poems in the public square
for the people to read....
"The true poets' topic is people/not the poet," he goes on to say, negating grandstanding and ego-games. And it's true, there is no grandstanding in I Kiss the Feet of Angels at all. Many of the same old topics, whores on the streets at night, in the Tenderloin, the tough-ass area where Winans himself lives, whores, Chinatown sweat shops...the usual, but here very unusually done. Again
woodcut objectivity, giving precedence to the image rather than the rant:
The girls of the Tenderloin....
Boldy struttheir stuff
Unafraid of the law man's bluff....
Talk thick slang
"Their "hey baby
you want a date"
cutting through the air
like a machete searching
a snake in knee high grass.....
Stop traffic with their looks
Their dark brown eyes thirsty
As a Mexican matador looking
For a kill
("Girls of the Tenderloin," n.p.)
The same old down-in-the-dumps pessimism and bitchyness is here, but it's gotten lifshinesquely transformed from rant to snazzy imagery:
I feel like I'm the lone survivor
standing on the deck of the Titanic
destined to walk the ocean floor
with a fish womb view of reality
("Poem for a Friend in Prison.")
There are times when he even gets word-playful, sounding more like Richard Kostelanetz than old Buk:
safe sex condom
("State of Affairs")
What comes next with this guy, "Let us go, you and I, when the evening is spread out against the sky like a patient etherized on a table?"
And this is not a complaint; I think Winans is headed in the best of possible directions, kind of the artistic monumentalization of street stuff.
Reviewed by Hugh Fox
Book Review: From the Waters of Oblivion by Alan Catlin.
The Chiron Review Press, 2000. $10.00
The Doctor, the main character in Alan Catlins From the Waters of Oblivion, is a paranoid, self-centered, arrogant, compulsive, deluded and melodramatic fool. But, perhaps it is his wit, or the car wreck sort of curiosity of watching someone self destruct, that makes one want to read about him. In any event, The Doctor is a fascinating literary creation. For the first forty pages of this novel I found myself hating The Doctor. I wanted to see him get his just deserts and he does. However, the brilliance of this novel is that you actually start caring for this man, and by the time his callous, caviler life style catches up to him you actually care--you even find yourself rooting for him.
Alan Catlin, renowned poet, has spend most of his life working as a bartender. In this novel Catlin, as he does with his poems, takes his experiences and turns them into something more--something literary and metaphoric. Here, he meticulously creates his own surreal world. Its the world of the underground. Its the bartenders world--a dark life that takes place after the sun goes down, when the straights are safe at home, sleeping.
Anyone who has ever spent time working in a bar knows this world well. The customers becomes something foreign--outsiders, money spenders, drunks, barstool philosophers and sometimes, if they are there enough, part of the family. But, in any event, bars, no matter how festive, are a place to die. Whether it is the quick violent death of a bar fight gone out of control, or the slow death of alcoholism, bars are a metaphor for the larger scope of our existence. That is, after everything else is stripped away, life and death is all we have. Some embrace it, some ignore it, but all eventually pay their final tab.
The Doctor, an ex-literary student--having spent seven years in college, sees the metaphor for what it is. In fact, he revels in it. He realizes that his job is to serve up slow death. He has a sort of Zen like appreciation for his place in the grand scheme of things. However, he has his own lesson to learn. Although he sees his world for what it is, he feels as if he is above it. It is as if he thinks his obscure literary references and his complete outer callousness can save him from the complete destruction we all eventually face. He is wrong. He is as much of a victim of his circumstances as the customers he serves.
The Doctors ultimate realization, his coming face to face with his own limitations, begin in the chapter A Season in Hell. He is getting older and starting to understand that living his life by bar rules isnt all he had cracked it up to be. The drinking at night and taking pills to get him moving in the afternoon isnt working as well as it used to. He is being haunted by dreams of his own imperfections. The Doctor explains his dream to his on again off again girlfriend, Wendy:
I kneel down and drink deeply of the water. All of a sudden theres a brilliant, blinding flash of light and I lose consciousness and fall over, fall for some time, but not in a plunging, desperate way, sort of a weightless, free falling
Wendy says, Thats what you get from overindulging from the waters of oblivion.
The Doctor replies, I wake up in another dream.
Its not the last dream The Doctor will have and the following dreams will be worse.
In the following chapter, Dying the Slow Death, we finally get a glimpse of The Doctor through the first person. The change in narrative, however brief, was something Catlin needed to do. In a few pages he makes The Doctor human. He shows us his doubts, his worries, and his ability to care. From this point on, The Doctor is no longer an unfeeling vehicle commenting on the desperation of the lives of others. He is a man who feels his own desperation, and like most of us, can do nothing about it.
With From the Waters of Oblivion, Catlin has done something that very few writers do with long fiction anymore--he has created an allegory. In Greek times this novel may have been called The Allegory of the Bar. Either way, The Doctor becomes a symbol for all of us. He begins his journey as a Doctor of Mixology--a fairly literal minded approach to his nickname. Later, he claims to be a Doctor of Life--the sort of man who observes, analyzes and tries to come to some rational conclusion about it all. Finally, he becomes The Doctor of Death--not only because he has witnessed, due to his profession, so many, but because he also serves it up, like we all do in some small way. The only question is, will everything The Doctor has observed prepare him to face his own mortality? Will he go down swinging or sniveling. Youll have to do what Im trying to recommend to find out--read the novel.
--Reviewed by Daniel Crocker
Reviews and More Reviews
City Blues by A.D. Winans. Published in France by Editions Microbe, but available directly from the author, signed for six dollars. A.D. Winans, P.O. Box 31249, San Francisco, CA 94131-0249
It's not shock to anyone that I'm a fan of A.D Winans. And in his latest, City Blues, he continues to impress me with his versatility. Often Winans is thought of a a political, angry at the system poet--and I believe he is angry at the system and for good reason. However there is another side to his work--it's a little gentler, a little more philisophical and approaching a sort of Zen like quality. In City Blues, Winans mixes these two approaches to poetry together perfectly.
the young Panamanian girl
sitting alongside her sister
in slip and bare feet
reading a comic book
and chewing bubble gum
at a brothel called the Teenage Club
waiting for the first
GI's to arrive
six girls lined-up
like bowling pins
rooted to their chairs
with zombie like stares
doing a woman's thing
inside a child's body."
Other stand outs are "Illegal", "Tough Guy Poets" and all of the Panama poems. As well as "A Thing of Beauty", which is one of my favorites.
"A Thing of Beauty
it was at the
before it caught fire
her publes dark as ash
set apart from sheet
her scent an orchid
pinned to a virgin's chest."
Poems don't get much better than that!
Reviewed by Daniel Crocker
Book Review: The Eternities of Shiva: A Long Poem by Kaviraj George Dowden. Oracle Press. 82 Marine Parade, Brighton, E. Sussex BN2 1AJ, England. 61 Pages, $10.00. By Dan Crocker
I first ran across the work of Kaviraj George Dowden six or seven years ago. It was Dave Christy of Alpha Beat Press that introduced me to it. They had just published Dowdens The Moving I (his only novel), and Dave thought that there would be something in the work of Dowden to catch my attention. He was right, I read my copy of The Moving I in one sitting. Then I loaned it to a friend who I thought would also enjoy it. He did. I never got my book back.
Fortunately, Ive been lucky enough to read a lot more Dowden over the years, and to benefit from his wisdom and advice (Although he hasnt taught in a college for almost thirty years, hes still willing to advise younger, developing poets). Of course, I was thrilled when the Kaviraj sent me a copy of his most recent work, The Eternities of Shiva--especially since the poet himself considers this his master work, a long poem that took no less than four years to write (my guess is it had been brewing in the Dowdens mind most of his life.)
The very first things that I connected with in Dowdens work--humor, story telling, everyman voice--are perfected in The Eternities of Shiva. Take this line for instance, Shes [Annie] the foremost manifestation of the/ eternities of Shiva to me--nonattachment? tell me about it! Its this humor, this deceptively simple language, that draws the reader into Dowdens work.
Of course, there are deeper levels and Dowden explores them. As David Cunliffe points out in the introduction, this poet makes a telling up-to-the-minute statement of the Oneness of the world. And what would a Dowden book be devoid of his unique down-to-earth spirituality? He draws on Whitman and Blake, or course two of his fore-bearers, but I see influences of Kerouac (blowing deep), the Bible (long, rhythmic line) and Ginsberg. Dowden takes what is good from these writings, perfects them and makes them his own.
His opening line: All is Shiva or Consciousness, yes! And thats my self-created mantra. Thus, the journey is begun--the searching out of Shiva in all of its forms--all of its mundane, ordinary forms that are really beautiful when someone, like Dowden, takes the time to notice them. Its a familiar theme in Dowdens work but one that never gets old, because there are so many things to explore. In The Eternities of Shiva, however, Dowden is completely immersed in Consciousness. Its as if he has brought himself to an even higher level of understanding, and he does a good job bringing the reader with him.
Of course, the love story of George and Annie is present. As in previous books, it not only chronicles a very important aspect of the authors life, but it also works as a symbol. The relationship always seems to parallel the authors own inner musings on life and Shiva. However, the story itself is worth reading--almost like short fiction there is conflict, suspense, and resolution. Beloved, I finally told Annie, lets just think of now.
I cant recommend this poem enough. Long time Dowden readers will find him at the height of his powers. First time readers will discover a poet who is unique in form, image and theme--a Whitman for the new millennium. Buy the book? As Kaviraj George Dowden himself might say, Shiva, yes!
There is also a very useful glossary of unfamiliar Sanskrit terms used in the poem. Kaviraj, by the way, is a term bestowed upon someone by their guru. It means, poet king with the connotation of seer.
Book Review ABYSS, POEMS. By Harry R. Wilkens. $3.75 plus $2.25 shipping. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org ISBN: 96078790508
So, I got the new Harry R. Wilkens book ABYSS, POEMS in the mail. Now, I don't usually like to give bad reviews, but sometimes I have to. I mean, often I would ignore a book that I didn't feel strongly about, and just not review it at all. But, I want to review this one. It isn't a horrible book and there are actually some good poems in here. For example, Projects--
when we finally get
our rent subsidy . .. .
end of month
be like Christmas.
I like that--there's something real in it. Other good poems in the same sort of vein are Charity and Poet's Hat.
However, there is an element of homophobia in the book that I just cant get past. Modern Dance--I want to rub/the bald/ egg-head/ of the queer/ in front/ of me/ like a/ crystal ball/ to know/ if this/ ballet dancer/ really/ wears/ no panties/ at all/ and if/ her/ shaking &/ screaming/ body/ really/ is just/ longing/ for a/ male/ like/ me.
Well, I know a few lesbians that you would risk getting your hand cut off if you tried to rub their bald heads. How about "Worries", Why spoil our mood/ with the problems/ of blacks, fags & women/ when we dont even know/ how to manage for the/ current down-payments/ and rent and to get/ enough food stamps/ for booze and drugs/ and occasional fucks/ with blacks, fags & women.
I have to question the use of the word fags. If you're going to use the word fag why not replace the word blacks with niggers and women with bitches. Fag is a much better word when a fag is actually using it. I only hope that Wilkens meant the poem to be ironic.
Here's Western Sex----If you try/ too hard/ to figure out/ in a Western/ public transport/ in this one/ is a girl/ or a boy/ or a girlboy/ or a boygirl/ or a transvestite,/ you may lose/ your appetite.
I don't think I need to comment on that one.
Finally "Useless"---Why take/ all the/ risks & pain/ for a/ sex change/ just/ to be/ able/ to pee/ like/ a female?/ I have always/ done this/ and still/ have/ my dick!
Thank god, the narrator of this poem still has his dick. But I don't think that most people who undergo sex changes are doing it so that they can piss like a girl. I think it's a little more complicated than that. I know the poem is suppossed to be funny--but is it?
Now, I'm not saying in any way that Wilkens is homophobic--I dont personally know the man. I speaking only of these few poems. And like I said, there are some good poems in here as well. I do think, however, that some of them tend to veer too much toward fantasy for younger women--The poem "A Girl of 16 passing thru the 1st class train carriage in the middle of Austria" works this them extremely well. "The poem The Day I Screwed Shirley Temple" is a a little more creepy. And some of the poems seem more like scribbled down thoughts, with little thought put into them, than actual poetry. Well, it's probably best if I let you decide yourself on both Wilkens intent and poetic power. I leave you with the poem "Restore Hope."
It is a men's job
to carry white rice bags
for the hungry black man
and delicious black girls
for the horny white man
dressed in a fashionable
multi-pocket khaki suit
driving an all-wheel car
to golf greens and beaches
or stiff white pricks
into firm black asses
before getting relaxed
in luxury hotels
where female staff
provides the rest
of the warrior.
--Reviewed by Dan Crocker
Do Not Look Directly Into Me
Again, Dan Crocker has drawn us into his mind with his new book of short, short stories, "Do Not Look Directly Into Me."
Crocker takes us on a journey through a group of small-town boys looking for a leader of their new gang, to the hard times of a man with "poor circulation" and no health insurance. We learn of the fears of a twenty-something man named Cracker and what will happen to his family after his mother gets arrested for passing thousands of dollars in bad checks.
Then there's Charlie and how he's lost his Charlie, but fear not - for in the end he finds out that he really is the "Charliest Charlies."
Crocker's writing is of such an eclectic manner that there's something in this book for all readers. Expect to hear the name Dan Crocker in literary class in years to come, because this author stands out among the other modern-day authors with images that are clear and concise, never getting lost to the reader. He mixes story telling that is reminiscent of a back-porch conversation with an old friend.
But you have a choice to buy this book - everyone has the choice, "even hermaphrodites have a choice."
DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY INTO ME
*Do Not Look Directly Into Me, short stories by Daniel Crocker, 2001, 183 pages, $12.95 from Green Bean Press, PO Box 237, NYC 10013 or special order from your local bookstore. Dan Crocker is one of the best writers around today, and has gotten praise from the likes of Gerald Locklin and Gerald Nicosia. The title of this collection is Do Not Look Directly Into Me, but that is exactly what Crocker offers, a look into his psyche. The short stories are told in first person, and most offered amusing anecdotes into the life of a middle-class worker (a dishwasher in many of the stories). Crocker has a real ear for catching everyday language and colloquialisms and he spins a good yarn. Most funny was the unwieldly titled Men, Or Why I Blame My Short Attention Span On Sesame Street, Or Things They Never Taught Us in Sunday School, Or It's Not The Cosby Show, Or The Water Of Generations, about the misadventures of Dan and his gay friend Athens, when they meet Athen's Grandparents and Dan is wearing a skirt and is drunk. The grandmother keeps calling Dan Athen's "girlfriend"! The dialogue is funny and right-on. Also good is Chicken Blue, about a husband and wife who pick out men and women that turn them on in the crowd at a Blues Festival, so they can fantasize and have hot sex back at home later on. The story offers a twist ending. Least effective is The Inner Charlie, an annoying one-note joke that repeats the word Charlie several times each sentence. The story clobbers you over the head with its point (I passed on this for publication at Lucid Moon but saw it in a recent Brown Bottle. I cringed!). Overall a fine collection of short stories by an imaginative writer. Dan is a very good poet too, and this entertaining collection shows how versatile he is as a writer. Highly recommended. Another nice looking production from Ian Griffin at Green Bean Press. Green Bean Press makes the best-looking books in the small press today. Ralph Hassleman
Reviewed by Timothy Gager (author) 10/3/2001
I'm a sucker for this contemporary short fiction. Much in the style of Larry Brown, Carver, and not so much Bukowski, Crocker draws you into his characters. When you try to leave, he won't let you. In this tale you are the guest that sits uncomfortable and wants to leave the setting...but you are Trapped. The story ends in resolve, something that is not done easily. Bravo! The full twenty-three stories will read like a fun weekend in Jersey City. I enjoyed this very much.
Do Not Look Directly Into Me
Stories by Daniel Crocker
Green Bean Press
PO Box 237
New York City, NY 10013
182 pages (paperback)
One question kept surfacing in my mind as I read through Daniel Crockers first collection of short stories, Do Not Look Directly Into Me: What is in the water in the state of Missouri?
These meticulously crafted and vastly entertaining tales of the plight of the blue-collar American resonate with a narrative voice that simply drips with pithy, poignancy and an understated humor that isnt all that far removed from another famous Missourian writer, Mark Twain. Crockers colloquial voice resounds through the voices of children, dishwashers, malcontents, and the lost soul taking harrowed steps towards an abrasive assimilation in the ubiquitous real worldsmall bounds towards becoming sivilized.
Perhaps Crockers most luminous gift is his inimitable control of language. Hes able to brush stroke the most outrageous and creative stories with a fine layer of verisimilitude. In Even Dishwashers Dream a dishwasher is confronted by a pair of opportunistic space aliens who attempt to recruit him for an intergalactic dishwashing team. Yet underneath the fatuous plot lurks the candid and solemn yearnings for an American Dream gone stale. Crockers confronts this dream in many of these stories from a number of different angles, and in the twentieth century tradition, these characters come up with nothing but a faint strand of hope to gnaw on.
Crocker takes a number of stylistic chances in Do Not Look Directly Into Me and lands on his feet in just about everyone of them. In experimental stories such as Inner Charlie, Isabel and I and Father, Son and The Holy Ghost, he manipulates language and molds it into new shapes with pristine craftsmanship. Daniel Crocker is one of the few trailblazers in todays small press literary scene, and this becomes abundantly apparent in this collection.
Much like his predecessor, Twain, Crocker also seems to have keen ear for the colloquial voice. He writes dialect with an acute sensibility that seems all but lost in most contemporary fiction. In In With The Trash, the narrator, yet another dishwasher, describes his boss, an immigrant for Greece:
His accent was thick and strained. Hed never learned good English, but hed been away from Greece for almost 40 years. Forgetting how his accent should sound, he made it up. Either that or someones not good a writing dialect. (p. 142)
The irony here being that Crocker is, in fact, prodigiously talented at writing dialectyet another notable gem in this fine collection.
The characters in Do Not Look Directly Into Me are not exceptional people; theyre the furtive inhabitants of small town America. Their hopes, their dreams, their struggles and strains for happiness are not abashed with a cynical stroke of the pen. Theyre treated with a sublime sensitivity and a gentleness that makes Crocker both a sentient realist and, paradoxically, a whispering idealist. Crocker cuts to the vein of the American spirit (blood being one of the many recurrent symbols in the collection) and lets the characters bleed before wiping it up with an implied sense of salvation. In Snakes, the narrator, a young boy, learns from his father that ugliness always tries to kill beauty. However, beauty does not die in these stories; it thrives in its subtlety.
A beautiful all-around effort meticulously edited with a beautiful cover design by Karen Ostrom, Do Not Look Directly Into Me is a profound collection of extraordinary strength and range. Daniel Crocker establishes himself as one of the premier storytellers in the small press destined for larger things. I highly recommend buying this collection. And whatever is in the water in Missouri, we should all try some it. Reviewed by Nate Graziano.
A fine American story-teller makes his living washing dishes, teaching part-time at the local college. But this says more about America than the story-teller--Daniel Crocker.
This attractive 182 page paperback from Green Bean Press is Crocker's first collection of short stories. Some of them are symbols, allegories, metaphors. The best one's "Kryptonite"--a funhouse reflection of our nobility, that dream we used to call "American" where Superman/Clark kent is mired in a hazy scene of small town punks & hometown drunks, going from annoyance to confusion to delirium with the help of Heinekin, gradually losing all identity until he's just another bastard crawling towards some porcelain oblivion. The hero in search of the men's room.
Another top offering is "Guess Who Called." The hero shows up for his shift as a dishwasher. A co-worker tells him his fiance called. But the dishwasher has no fiance. So after work he's having a beer with the old men who haunt the nearby bar and mentions off the cuff he's getting married. The old men listen, moving closer, start to buy him drinks as he begins describing "her", suspending his dream girl above them in the smoky air until he's every storyteller, sharing hope with the old mean & us like some communion.
One of Crocker's strong points is a knack for humorous digression--taken to extreme. Sometimes the plot is just a starting point for a series of monologues, like being in a stand-up comic's head while at the grocery store, or the emergency room having chest pains from stress when you're just 26, as in "Poor Circulation." That's the way life is sometimes: nothing really happens, but we talk about it anyway, and what we say is often funny.
Other times it only hurts when you laugh. Technically, "The Big Decision" is about a friend who's agonizing over whether or not he's gay, smack in the middle of raising 3 god-fearing homophobe kids. It's really a springboard for a sitcom, riddled with diggressions spiraling past satire and into black humor.
There's a real person telling these stories, living these stories. Someone who works and lusts and drinks and loves his children, just trying to live in a country that's trying to kill itself.
I liked the 3 or 4 dishwasher stories toward the end the best. Crocker's personality comes through the clearest here, and it's one I like. A couple stories wallow in the gutter without at least pointing to the stars, "The Insect Family" especially. But that's the worst thing you can say about this book.
The best thing you can say is books like these are why Small Press exists.
--Reviewed by Michael Kriesel