On the Midnight Stage/High Ground Valley Flashback – Walter Beck (Writing Knights Press)
Dialectic of the Flesh – Roz Kaveney (A Midsummer Night’s Press)
Deleted Names – Lawrence Schimel (A Midsummer Night’s Press)
Fortunate Light – David Bergman (A Midsummer Night’s Press)
What happened to the Spring Poetry Roundup, you ask? Time got away from me, I finished my novel, I started an editing business, we moved the blog — shit, as they say, happened. So, my apologies to Walter Beck and Lawrence Schimel who sent these pieces to me a long time ago. The length of time between when they came out and when this review appears, however, has nothing to do with their quality. And there is some quality here, indeed.
First up is a two-fer from Walter Beck, On the Midnight Stage and High Ground Valley Flashback. On the Midnight Stage contains one or two of Beck’s rare sojourns into love poetry as well as covering his well-traveled territory of late-night hipster road trips and overcaffeinated activism. The pieces in High Ground Valley Flashback are of older vintage and have appeared elsewhere. What I most admire about Beck’s work is its dogged determination to remain different, no matter how much pressure society puts him under–evidenced by his reaction to a letter sent to him by a university judiciary board calling him out for his behavior on an open mic night (“Letter ‘No Bad Publicity’ Mix”) or “Damn It All and Live,” which sees him damning a litany of societal tensions and ending with:
Let it all be damned./Let’s lay here in the early morning mood,/Still sweaty from the late night show,/tasting each other/tasting life/tasting it all/and wanting more.
Beck is young, with many more works in him, and he’ll be able to fulfill the promise he shows with each new chapbook. These are snippets, and his readers anxiously await something long form–a blanket from the bolt of genius cloth he has socked away in his closet. Buy from Writing Knights Press.
On another end of the poetic spectrum, Roz Kaveney’s musing on queerness and the trans experience in Dialectic of the Flesh is a mixed bag of emotions. From the medicinal resentfulness of “Cunt” to the almost gleeful celebration of angst in “Annoyance” to the short yet powerful examination of empty compliments in “Privilege,” Kaveney cuts deep with some witty, well-observed truths. Her piece de resistance here, however, is “23,” which takes stock of her childhood from her young adulthood.
Your father worried over how you walked/and would not let you act in the school play/for fear that they would cast you as a girl/and make him speak aloud the thought he feared/and start to lose the boy he’d dreamed you were./And how you walked worried your father’s dreams.
Whether she is reviewing history (“Stonewall”) or musing on roles (“Drag”), Kaveney has a unique, original voice you’ll not tire of hearing. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.
As well as Kaveney represents the trans spectrum in Deleted Names, Lawrence Schimel rivals her in breadth and scope from the gay male perspective. From the short punchline of “The Frog Prince” to the smiling truths of “On Men’s Insecurities” to the frankness of “Call Boy,” Schimel not only poses some interesting questions but answers them. But for me, the two best pieces juxtapose form and subject to unexpected effect. Limericks are witty and fun and an extremely familiar part of the poetic landscape, even though many people don’t think of them as poetry. But when limericks turn to serious subjects such as AIDS, the effect causes you to rethink both form and function. Even though I dislike including complete pieces in reviews, I must do so with “AIDS Limerick I: Denying the End.”
These hospital visits portend/that death very soon will attend/this friend with bold face/and bear hug embrace/who begs that I please just pretend
I rarely come across a piece that fascinates me the way that does. It’s devastating. And if you pick up Deleted Names for no other reason, do so for the companion limerick. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.
David Bergman’s Fortunate Light does not take those kinds of chances, but that doesn’t mean it’s any less transcendent. His poems touch on universal themes of love, loss, and bittersweet remembrance. From the contented morning beauty of “Fortunate Light” to the regretful memory of “The Infinite Recession of the Object of Desire,” to the poem-within-a-painting of “John Koch, Cocktail Party, 1956,” Bergman draws you in with language devoid of obscure metaphor, its plainness reinforcing its truth. Lust is also a subject, both casual (“The Hitchhiker”) and more meaningful (“The Distractions of Beauty”). It’s the first poem, “In Nordstrom’s,” however, that sets the tone for the collection. The simple act of communicating with a shoe salesman ends this way:
…“They look good/on you,” he nods, smiling. And for the first time/I notice all his clothes are wrong/that any clothing would be wrong on the fine/light structure of his bones that was built/only for wings. Just wings.
And Bergman’s words have wings, indeed. Buy from A Midsummer Night’s Press.
And there you have the Summer Poetry Roundup. I promise not to make you wait as long for the Fall installment, for which I have some wonderful stuff already.
Copyright 2013, Jerry L. Wheeler