Poetry for Southern California



Poetry CD Reviews & Other Things!

January 2015

By G. Murray Thomas, Senior Editor, and Eric Morago, Associate Reviewer

Book by Marvin Dorsey
Long Drive Home Press

Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas

As you might guess, Marvin Dorsey's Desert Prowl uses the desert as a unifying theme. It is not just that it is often the setting for the poems, or a recurring image, but the very nature of the desert has seeped into his writing style. These are sparsely worded, bare-bones poems. Even the topics of the poems are often reduced to their essence, as in “A Reality” (“just because/ We have/ a black man/ Living in/ the white house/ Doesn't mean/ I still wont/ Be/ called/ A/ Nigger”) or “Backyard” (“Sun/ sky/ wind// Desert/ people. plastic bottle”).

Let me be clear. Sparse does not mean simple. Dorsey touches deep topics here, matters of society, life and death. Often there is a contrast of the harshness of urban life with the ease of the desert. Many of the poems move literally from the city to the desert. In some, the traffic itself is the problem, as in the poems “Holding Up (My Middle Finger)”: “Wish it was an odd thing/ not to be allowed on the freeway,” and “Monsters”:

It's only a few more miles until home
just me alone with my thoughts
easing onto brakes it's time to stop

Only to find the monster still alive
not in the back seat
but behind the steering wheel.

More often, though, the journey leads to a clearing of the head, a finding of the keys to his problem. “Sunrise On Interstate 50” starts with “Red brake lights, 18 wheeler gives off smoke” but ends with the lines:

Who could weave such a tapestry
with no hands, a quilt out of one long thread
who could think it could feel so real
without stilts, walking through golden skies

Of course, the desert itself can be harsh, as in “Mojave Green,” in which a rattlesnake kills a hen, only to be grabbed by a hawk itself.

Writing in such an unadorned style has its risks. There are times Dorsey doesn't manage to transcend the basic topics, when he just states what he has to say:

Under this dark desert sky
these bright stars
this man has no color
it pains me to be in such tight chains
with a simple truth
when yesterday I was called a liar
(“A Beautiful Place”)

But, at his best (like “Sunrise on Interstate 50”), he finds essential truths in the sparseness of the desert. In “The Anger of” he writes:

Outside so dark couldn't
mark the trail if I had to

So quiet afraid to think
every thought might be heard

old man learned the truth
of how much doesn't really matter

found my way back into the dark
while the world at large all went to hell

Dorsey's poetry does not involve elaborate language or complex philosophical quandaries. But if you want to read poetry with the clarity of the desert air, pick up this book.


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