Fall Poetry Roundup 2

Skin Job – Evan J. Peterson (Minor Arcana Press)

4 Poems – Walter Beck (Citizens for Decent Literature Press)

Some Assembly Required – Walter Beck (Writing Knights Press)

As the Cannons and Muskets Roar – Walter Beck (Writing
Knights Press)

Among the Leaves – Raymond Luczak, ed. (Squares &
Rebels)

When We Become Weavers – Kate Lynn Hibbard, ed. (Squares
& Rebels)

The first time I met Evan Peterson was, naturally, at a
poetry reading, his face and forehead full of bloody mock stitches—a shocking
look in a group of fashionably deshabille poets—which, of course was his
intention. Peterson loves his monsters, and this is apparent from the very
first of Skin Job. Some of his creations were inspired by movies
(“Creature of the Night came from Rocky Horror Picture Show, “Box Office
Poison” from Mommie Dearest and “Dyscephalus” from The Elephant Man,
for example), but many scenes shambling around in his brain have no expression
on film, such as the lovely filth of “The Piss Test Cathedral” or the
disgusting shapes in “The Froo Froo Mutant.” Despite his penchant for dripping,
bloody, wriggling, altered corpses, however, Peterson retains a love of the
absurd and a sense of humor, as in the piece that ends the book, “Acceptance
Speech for a Posthumous Oscar”:

                        For
my true friends: champagne/

                        For
my sham friends: true pain./

                        Thanks
for my own murderers attending my funeral./

                        Thank
you for teaching me the value of suffering for art./

                        This
is indeed my finest hour.

But Peterson has many fine hours to come. His horrorshow
poetry is simultaneously disturbing and liberating—a truly unique combination
that is as repellent as it is savory.

Also savory is the salty fire of Indiana’s incendiary poet,
Walter Beck—gay Boy Scout, lover of cheap hangover wine and baiter of street
preachers. Beck’s two recent chapbooks, Some Assembly Required and 4
Poems
are short bursts of Beck’s pissed-off prowess that hit his usual
well-deserved target of hypocritical poseurs. As the Cannons and
Muskets Roar
, however, is a well-timed departure from his vitriol. This
collection of twenty-six poems about Civil War re-enactment (Union side)
reveals a far more tender and lyrical side of Beck while retaining his Beat
sensibilities as well as his some of his other cultural touchstones (including
quotes from Ministry, the Beatles, the Doors, and Pink Floyd). From the opener,
“The Re-Enactor” to the closing “The Night Prayer,” Beck captures the
experience in sweat, smoke, hardtack and salt pork with shadings of honor, glory
and beauty as in “A Muse of Wood and Steel”:

                                    I
dreamed of her last night/

                                    As
she spoke in smoke and fire./

                                    I
felt her strength in my hands;/

                                    Feeling
like Homer must have felt/

                                    As
Calliope hotly whispered the Iliad/

                                    In
his ear.

Beck is a young poet, one whose rage usually fuels his
material, and the difference in his work when he’s writing from a place of love
and affection is startling. The change is as refreshing as the pieces
themselves, and readers can only hope this isn’t the last time we see this side
of him.

Some of Walter Beck’s work is also in a marvelous volume
edited by Raymond Luczak, Among the Leaves: Queer Male Poets on the
Midwestern Experience
. Luczak has cherry picked the work of eighteen poets,
giving each four or five pieces to create their impressions of the Midwestern
life. The concept is brilliant and the execution nothing less than
breathtaking, as is its distaff companion edited by Kate Lynn Hibbard, When
We Become Weavers: Queer Female Poets on the Midwestern Experience
. For a
Midwestern boy like myself, both volumes take me back to wintry days, fall
colors, the snap of fresh apples and the smell of the woods across the road.
But as these are gay men and women, they also recall shame, fury, illicit
thrills and the anxiety of knowing you’re different than the other kids
ice-skating with their friends. Among the Leaves features some of my
favorite poets, including Luczak himself (“Lakewood Cemetary”), Gregg Shapiro
(“Winter Work”), Stephen S. Mills (“Trying to Convince My Aunt to Vote
Democrat, 2008”), Jack Fritscher (“Clark Station: Kalamazoon, 1969”), Scott
Wiggerman (“Plays Like a Girl”), Timothy Murphy (“Winter Camp: The Eagle
Trail”) and James Schwartz—who captured my heart with the simple yet moving
“Disco Rumspringa”:

                                    From
sequestered settlements of Amish land,/

                                    My
sequined
rumspringa is at hand/.

                                    Away
in the night I make my flight/

                                    To
a world unknown lit by street light.

But leaving home means occasional regret, and the more one
reads the poems in each of these books, small emotional details stick in your
head like wet leaves on the bottom of your shoe, giving you the impression of a
nurturing yet unforgiving region that can be as harsh as it comforting. When
We Become Weavers
is, for me, even more enlightening than Among the
Leaves
because, never having had girl experiences growing up, I had more to
learn. Among the terrific poets here, I especially enjoyed the work of Carla
Christopher (“Always a Survivor in the Room”), Morgan Grayce Willow (“H-O-R-S-E”),
Jes Braun (“Family Tree”), Sheila Packa (“Fox, No Longer Hidden”), Natalie J.
Byers (“Rumors”), Laura Madeline Wiseman (“The Matriarch”), and the wondrous
Crystal Boson, whose “God responds to rick perry and his national day of prayer
in a language he can understand” just made me laugh:

                                    I
had scheduled up rain/

                                    now
I’m spending my day/

                                    scrubbin’
your voice from my ear/

                                    and
clenchin up the assholes of clouds.

Either one of these books will charm, enchant, mystify and
astound you—but they speak loudest to those people from the center of the
country, where love and hatred grow as spiky high as the corn. Please, however,
get them both to get the fullest picture of what coming of age in the Midwest
is like.

And that’s the Fall Poetry Roundup. Now excuse me, I need to
start collecting the books for Winter. 

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©, 2012, Jerry Wheeler

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