Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Lost Fire Brigade by Spike Hawkins

Fulcrum Press London/Horizon Press USA, 1968. I know, 1968... But if I am allowed to suggest books, especially poetry books, this one is always going to be on the list. This is an Awesome Book. And it allows me to use the word curio, because it is also an out of print and very strange book (I don't feel too guilty listing it, though, because there seem to always be a few used copies hanging around Amazon, and these books need homes). Spike Hawkins is a very funny, very poignant, very odd British poet who came out of the late 60's hippy movement in Liverpool and he released this book, and then another collection of mostly the same poems in 2001 which came with a recording of him reading the poems aloud (250 Grams of Poetry), but really you don't need to hear him. He is quite loud enough in this work.

I turn to Hawkins every year. Literally every year. Every time I get annoyed by poetry, or feel like it's too pretentious or too ivory colored or too whatever, Hawkins saves me. He's my poetic-antiseptic, something that cleans everything away and steadies me to get back to it. In fact, I tend to open any reading I give with a poem of his; it... cleans the air. I would say more about his actual poems... but they are rather tough to talk about, so I'll quote two. I guess to say something at all, Hawkins poems are the truest of poems, because they simply can't be anything else. I guess that's enough. But first, here is the logic test that one of the book's reviewers created, so you can see if this is for you:
  1. Most of the people who most love the work of Spike Hawkins are poets.
  2. You are mostly a poet.
  3. You should mostly love most of the work of Spike Hawkins most.
And now for two poems.

It is friday
I clean my rifle
and wait for the bean train
This last one is spectacularly good, and reminds me that poets can write jokes sometimes.
small spell for turning people inside out

My back!
I'm back!
Please read this awesome, awesome book.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

The Beginning of the Fields by Angela Shaw

Tupelo Press, 2009. Dang! This book knows how to make an entrance. Last AWP I was browsing the Tupelo Press table and asked if they had one book in particular that they would recommend. Without hesitation the entire group exploded like “OMG!!! This one!!!” Given both their reaction and Terrance Hayes’ description of Angela Shaw as “magical” on the back cover, I figured I should go ahead and shell out the dough.

I’m so, so glad I did. The Beginning of the Fields is simply glorious. Like, it glows. It’s been a long time since I’ve come across a poet who experiences the world in Angela Shaw’s sexy, generous, and even hilarious flavors and hues. Take, for instance, these bon-bons: “A tree full of pink/ wishes, each bud clenched/ in its private/ tantrum,” “fishes suck at the rough/ creek bottom, muttering/ leftovers, leftovers,” “a haunting of clocks crowds/ his walls, each one holding its stale breath,” “The land an animal they broke, rode bareback.” This book may take place in fields, forests and old homes, but it belongs on the red carpet of poetry.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Wait by Alison Stine

“I am a bird
in the field and I want you to find me.
I want you to find me. Tell me wait.”

The University of Wisconsin Press, 2011. Whenever I get to that point where I just want to line up my poems and punch them in the face, I turn to Ali Stine. Maybe it’s because she’s a friend of mine, she’s from where I’m from, or the fact that we both enjoy a good Neko Case song and a pint of Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale, but there’s something about her writing that always nudges me along when I’d rather throw a temper tantrum.

Her first book, Ohio Violence (2008 Winner, Vassar Miller Prize in Poetry) is a heart-stopping, grisly Midwestern sweep, but I have to admit that this second collection, Wait (2011 Brittingham Prize in Poetry) is really where it’s at. The narrator in Wait announces herself as anything but a damsel in distress; she rides motorbikes, gossips, meets boys, runs away in fields. Her waiting is never an angelic prayer of patience but rather a restless urgency that grips us from the first poem to last. In “Rabbit of the World” she pleads: “Imagine what it is like for me/ to want you, to wait. Harbinger, rabbit/ of the world, red eye flashing as if to warn:/ the power that is coming will make no sound,” and in “Canary,” when the waiting seems endless: “My canary shutters against the man I thought/ I knew, the one who promised to love me./ What I want is a stranger’s arms. What/ I want is no story[…] Before he knows my name,/ no history, no apology, when I can trust/ him, when my body blows up in his mouth.”

Wait, like this stranger, makes no apologies. It is a book that I will return to again and again to remind myself, oh yeah, this is why poetry is important: when we don’t have any other choice but to write when there is nothing else to say.