Poetry for Southern California


Reviews 1/07


Poetry CD Reviews & Other Things!

Our Senior Editor G. Murray Thomas has put together the latest CD's in our craft for your ultimate listening pleasure (once you get the CD that is). We will provide listening selections when available.  And from time to time Murray may review books, or broadsides or god knows what... By G. Murray Thomas


An Anthology of Orange County Poets
Edited by Lee Mallory, Ricki Mandeville and Michael Miller
Moon Tide Press

I have spent more than ten years, first with Next.... and now with Poetix, trying to break down the barriers between the various SoCal poetry communities. And yet, despite these efforts, and a certain amount of success, the different areas of SoCal stubbornly continue to develop separate poetic identities.

Tide Pools, a new anthology of Orange County poets, captures a poetic sensibility which has developed there over recent years. I say sensibility because each of the poets here definitely has their own style, yet something unites them, and makes this a coherent collection. It incorporates the best of performance and literary poetry.

Most of these poets have grown and developed in the coffeehouses and other poetry venues of Orange County. The act of delivering their poetry to an audience has definitely influenced their style. Still this is not a collection of “performance poetry”. This is highly literary stuff, well crafted and complex, but with an emphasis on clarity and conciseness. Being understood is a priority to these poets.

Certain themes appear throughout these poems (or maybe they are just universal themes of poetry). A thread of loss and longing runs through them. There is a constant effort to connect with others.

Later, when the phone remains obstinately
mute and the sharp shadows of your room
press down like stilettos, you may begin thinking
of stars; how sometimes, no matter how brilliant,
they will implode and turn into black
“How to Date in Southern California,” Jaimes Palacio

 You want to reach in, pull her out —
reaching for shoulders, arms, elbows,
spilling her out into the net of you hands,
into the hold of your heart.
“In the Beginning,” Kate Buckley

Most of what we want is hidden. Most
There are friends who carry the weight of speech.
And there is sun. A streak of words, laughing.
“My Winter,” Marcia Cohee

These are things I say to myself
to convince myself that I hate you
when all I can do
is wonder where you are
and why I was not woman enough to keep you interested....
“Bernie Taupin Didn’t Write This But I Wish He Had,” Leigh White

Nature imagery is common, perhaps surprising for a place not known for natural wonders. Although only a couple of the poems by John Gardiner’s (”Back to the Sea” and “Walking the Marin Rim”) could be strictly called nature poems, an awareness of nature infuses many of the poems, even if it is only a counterpoint to the omnipresent development, as in poems by Marcia Cohee (“My Winter”), Mike Sprake “(“Mid-West Slumber”) and James Ysidro (“Rental”).

Perhaps not surprising for a place that is known for its beaches, water imagery recurs. There is the ocean in John Gardiner’s “Black Swan”, the rain in Daniel McGinn’s “Rainstorm”, and perhaps my favorite poem in the book, Beth McIlvaine’s “Waterfall”:

I am sorry but
 am this waterfall of a girl
Why can I not be
The earth beneath your feet
Why instead
The flood
That washes it away.

But what really unites these poems is the quality of the work. This book clearly demonstrates that the coffeehouse scene has incubated some fine poets, giving them a chance to refine their work before receptive but discerning audiences. The result is a find sampling of poems.

 —G. Murray Thomas


CD by Aaron Trumm

One has to be careful putting one’s poetry to music. There’s a thin line between elaborating and drowning out. I know, just last month I was praising Buddy Wakefield for producing a poetry CD which rocked musically, and this month I’m criticizing one for doing the same thing. The difference is that Wakefield’s music never got in the way of his poetry. On this CD, the music does. It took me a number of listens to work my way down to the poetry.

Or maybe I should just be reviewing this as a music CD. Bleed certainly fuzzes the difference. Not only is the musical backing up front in many of the pieces, Trumm sings his words as much as he recites them. The result is certainly listenable and entertaining.

But this a poetry website, so I need to focus on that. I was halfway through this Bleed before, on the track “10,000 Mirrors”, the words reached out and grabbed me. “10,000 Mirrors” concerns how our decisions follow us through our lives, specifically here the decision to be an outsider. Although certain details indicate it is about being gay, I read it as being about anyone who, accused of being “different” in the adolescence, chose to embrace that difference.

Other powerful tracks followed. “Life Ain’t No Battlefield”, about the struggle of life,  and “Third Rail”, a meditation on the age old question about why evil exists in the world.

So I went back and listened more closely to the first half of the CD. I found some tracks, like the title track, about grabbing the possibilities of life, which contained powerful words. But many of the others, frankly, work better as songs; by that I mean I’m not sure the words were strong enough to carry the piece on their own. Some, like “Bachelor” are entertaining, but lightweight. Others, like “War”, didn’t say anything I haven’t heard before.

So I guess in the end the balance works. When Trumm’s words are powerful, they do come through. And when they are more merely entertaining, the music carries the day.

For the latest news about me visit www.myspace.com/gmurraythomas. Now available: Paper Shredders, an anthology of surf writing. Order it from you favorite bookseller.

G. Murray Thomas