Poetry Roundup, Part Two

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Sonics in Warholia – Megan Volpert (Sibling Rivalry Press)

Closer – Christopher Soden (Queer Mojo Press)

Hello Kitty Chainsaw/Secular Exorcisms – Evan Peterson
(Temple Laboratories)

This Way to the Acorns – Raymond Luczak (Handtype Press)

Part two of our National Poetry Month roundup takes us even
stranger places than the last installment—from Andy Warhol to Udo Kier to black
plum balloons to charming scenic small town Michigan. No wonder they call
poetry transportative.

And there is no better place to start than Megan Volpert’s
wonderful prose-poetic paean to Andy Warhol, Sonics in Warholia. Surreal
free-form conversations with and about Warhol and his ghost reveal startling
synchronicities in Warhol’s life and art, from his silk-screened Marilyn
Monroes to The Velvet Underground, as reflected here:

 

Lou with his electric shock and heroin, with his deep
layers, his

lovely
unmanageable appetites that you wish to peel slowly and

see. I wonder
about what you two were trading, and if it was fair

or if it should
have been fair. Ready to explode, you patched

his noise with
Nico, a piece of German plastic. The Exploding

Plastic
Inevitable kept you in transit together. Did you nurse him

through
hepatitis in 1966, or leave him smoldering at the hotel

like a pet dog?

Lou Reed and Nico aren’t the only celebrities name-checked
here, but rather than a factual account, this is a fractured delight where
motorcycles, mixtapes, Truman Capote’s cremains, Leyden jars, electroshock
therapy, dead people’s cell phones, blow jobs, Typhoid Mary and Kubler-Ross’s
five stages of grief all collide with the grand, rambling
now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t order of an espresso and dexadrine fueled all
night conversation. But Volpert isn’t just spinning off without a shred of
sense. Her logic, her sequencing and the over-arching architecture of the piece
is flawless. This blend of  anthemic
amphetamine is heady and highly recommended.

Christopher Soden’s Closer is somewhat more
traditional free-verse but no less striking for its versatility as well as its
veracity. Some poets play on one theme or image for longer than necessary,
overplaying their hands. Soden’s work is wide-ranging, covering a variety of
subjects both universal and personal. Plus, Soden’s take on nearly everything
is just a bit different. Most poets, for example, concentrate on the brooding
rebellious James Dean, but Soden takes a look at the icon in his last picture, Giant,
as his character, Jett Rink, waits for his oil well to come in (“Gusher”):

 

    Eventually,
something roiling beneath

layers of rock and fossil, clay and loam

reaches the shaft of his derrick and he

climbs, hoisting himself up and up

till he reaches the crest of that miraculous

conduit, black syrup dense and pitchy

as liquid night. Dean welcomes this

infernal downpour of bliss, stretching

his arms to receive a baptism of careless,

criminal love.

Soden also possesses a fine sense of the bizarre, as
witnessed by “Angry Skeletons Attack Family”, which sees a suburban family set upon
by skeleton neighbors, and the “Spontaneous Combustion” of his aunt. If Soden
has a recurring motif, it’s his relationship with his father and his attendant
grief at his death, as played out in the surreal yet touching “Black Plum
Balloon,” the plainspoken “Eulogy,” and the chilling “Ghost Father.” However,
he doesn’t ignore queer issues or erotica, especially in the frank “The Hand I
Was Dealt” or one of my favorite pieces here, “Jockstrap.” At 140 pages, it’s a
bit long, but it’s a wonderful read.

On the other end of the spectrum are two short but
absolutely marvelous chapbooks by Evan Peterson, Hello Kitty Chainsaw
and Secular Exorcisms. Hello Kitty Chainsaw has a subtitle
indicating the poems are for performance, but they lose nothing on the page,
ranging from ironic (“Baby Batter”) to outright killer funny (“Even the Title
is a Safeword”) to defiant, as in “Everything in Our Arsenal.”

 

To win, we will use our wits

posture and eyebrows

         subtle teeth and crafty fingers…         

We will use telepathy and ESP

prayer and pyrokinesis

hair and nail trimmings submerged

In jars of honey, jars of dirt.

we will use your gods,

our gods, anyone’s.   

 

Secular Exorcisms is where Peterson’s Frankenstein
fixation comes to the fore, being stitched shut. The reader has to pull out the
stitches to get to the meat inside, a terrifically fun gimmick that is as
satisfying as it is pointed. Inside, the meal is sumptuous (“All Your Gorgeous
Garbage”), thematic (“The Dead Still Hear and Feel”) and surreal (“Goodnight,
Potato Head”). Peterson’s shrewd sense of the macabre informs his work but
never overpowers it. He’s always able to bring the grotesque imagery back to a
safe spot to make his point—a valuable talent indeed. For more information on
ordering these chapbooks, contact him at visceralpoetry@hotmail.com.

But as breathtaking as the above works are in terms of
pushing envelopes and taking chances, the tenth anniversary edition of Raymond
Luczak’s This Way to the Acorns takes me back to my childhood,
delivering memories with beauty, grace, and an unsentimental nostalgia that
left me smiling. Seen from an acorn’s point of view, this is a year-long trek
through a childhood in the Michigan wilderness split into four sections
reflecting seasonal changes. Luczak’s work here is a powerful reminder that
poetry should be able to soothe as well as inflame. The book works so well as a
whole that finding a portion to extract for review purposes was difficult, so I
just picked a passage from one of my favorites, “A June Weeding”:

 

                                    I
felt for its thickest part,

                                    pushing
my fingers into the earth.

                                    Its
stem was clean with crime.

                                    I
tugged slowly and out it came,

 

                                    white
roots gangly with clumps.

                                    It shivered in my hand as

                                    the
earth opened an eyelid at me,

                                    surprised.
The sun was still cool.

This is obviously nature poetry (“The Puddle,” “Slush,”
“Sunflower Seeds,” “The Ant”) and work extolling the wonder of childhood (“At
Grandma’s House,” “Rink at Norrie School,” “Mrs. Kichak’s Plum Tree”) but its
beautiful language and focused, striking imagery is certain to delight anyone
who remembers the delight and sheer magnificence of a boy (or girl) hood spent
in the dappled woods. I smiled all the way to the end.

And there you have Out in Print’s poetry roundup for
National Poetry Month. Pick and choose from these or, better still, attend a
reading or two in your area and hear the voices around you—because what goes in
your ears sinks straight to your soul. 

Reviews by Jerry Wheeler

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