Poetry for Southern California


Reviews 7/08


Poetry CD Reviews & Other Things!

July 2008

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...

Book by Kevin Patrick Sullivan
Deer Tree Press

I was reading some dense and demanding poetry (which shall remain nameless) just before I cracked opened this book. It was a breath of fresh air by comparison. Simple, direct language I could easily understand and appreciate.

Not that Sullivan’s poetry is simplistic. In poetry there is a huge gap between simple and simplistic. Sullivan’s poetry illustrates that difference well.

There are two types of “poetry which makes you think.” There is poetry where you have to struggle to figure out its meaning. Then there is poetry where the meaning is clear, but it is meaning you have to stop and ponder. Meaning you spend time reflecting upon. Sullivan’s poetry is the latter.

The poetry in The Space Between Things is a celebration of life. It recognizes that life is really a series of moments, and that to truly enjoy life is to enjoy the moment. These poems attempt to capture the magic of the moment. “I sometimes/ make a poem/ out of whatever is there” Sullivan writes (twice, in fact, in “Whatever is There,” p. 7, and again in “Linnaea’s Cafe 20th Anniversary Tribute,” p. 50).

In this way, Sullivan’s poems are like haiku. Although not structured as haiku, they share a similar goal— the attempt to capture a moment, and all that it holds:

A Sure Thing

Jets flee my fingers
my palms encircle the world
what was broken
pollen’s desire
brings me back
sand and surf
it is the light
that sustains me

I take what I’m offered
nothing left to chance.
(p. 57)

The same principle holds true for the love poems in the book. Many poets like to present love as eternal, undying; a very romantic notion. Sullivan looks in the opposite direction. While not denying the possibility of eternal love, he recognizes that the true joy of love lies in the joy of the moment:

For Patti My Wife

There are images
maybe traces
of tenderness
a quiet breathing
this shared breath
this gift
next to you.
(p. 96)

There are some longer, storytelling poems (mostly in the third section, “An Irish Moon”), but even they are primarily interested in describing a moment in Sullivan’s life, or family history. They leave it to the reader to extrapolate whatever meaning there might be in those moments.

I did find some repetition in the book (the most blatant being the line cited above), and a few more poems about writing poetry than fit my taste. Both of those flaws are probably an inevitable result of the style. Moments do repeat. And if the moment is a moment of writing a poem, then that’s the poem. Still, some judicious trimming might have produced a stronger book.

But this is a minor weakness. The Space Between Things is a beautiful collection of poetry. One that can be contemplated over and over. The book could be approached like the Tao Te Ching -- just open it randomly and contemplate the wonder of the moment.

—G. Murray Thomas

Rubber Side Down
Poetry Anthology Edited by Jose (Joe) Gouveia
Archer Books (www.archer-books.com)

Wherever you find people passionate about something, you will find poetry, even if the subject is not one we normally think of as “poetic.” That was the logic behind Paper Shredders, an anthology of surf poetry I edited. In Rubber Side Down, editor Gouveia has applied the same principle to bikers.

Surprisingly (or perhaps not), Rubber Side Down grew out of an already existing network of biker poets, the Highway Poets Motorcycle Club. These poets had already discovered each other. The movement is international as well; the book includes poets from South Africa, Russia and Australia. Rubber Side Down is the first attempt to collect their poetry in a single volume, and present it to the world.

The poems in Rubber Side Down encompass a wide variety of styles. Some have rigid rhythm and rhyme, others are free verse. There are prose poems and storytelling poems. There is even a particular form of haiku, labeled “baiku.” Still, rhyme and strict rhythm are prevalent. In this way, the biker poems resemble another outsider genre—cowboy poetry. In fact, this link is acknowledged outright in a couple of the poems. Many of the poets here share a taste for rhyme, rhythm and storytelling with the cowboy poets (and owe a direct debt on all three to Robert W. Service).

As one would expect, this is a collection of passionate poetry. You can feel the excitement in almost every poem—the thrill of speed, the wind in your hair, the freedom of highway.

The danger of this kind of collection is that the passion will overwhelm the poetry. I do find that to be the case here; too many poems seem to have little to say beyond, “Isn’t it great to get out and ride!” Too few of these poems, to my ear, stand on their own as poetry. Of course, the poems by Allen Ginsberg, Diane Wakowski and Thom Gunn stand out. Other poets I found strong, and poetic, include Paula Doherty, Denis J. Dunn, Jacqueline Loring, Terry Rozo, Debra Coppinger Hill, and editor Gouveia. Also, some of the storytelling poems, such as Gouveia’s tribute to Evel Knievel and Wild Bill Rogers’ “The Six-Legged Moose,” are highly entertaining, if a bit clichéd in structure.

There is also a minor problem of the private vocabulary of the bikers. As a non-biker, I had to wade through phrases such as “50cc/ single port exhaust,” “30th Anniversary XLH,” “So you ride your V-Rod, your Evo, 2Cam,” and “beat-up 1985 Honda/ Rebel 250cc 4-stroke...” Obviously, your average biker will understand all of these. Not only will the poems flow easily for them, this lingo will, no doubt, deepen the meaning for them. However, if this book is designed to appeal to non-biker readers as well, they may have the same problems with this lingo which I had.

Although any poetry fan will find some poems to like here, this book is primarily aimed at bikers. Actually, I can think of two groups for whom this book would make an excellent gift. The first is all your biker friends, whom you want to introduce to the thrill of poetry. The second group is your timid poet friends, who don’t understand why you want to do anything as crazy as ride.

— G. Murray Thomas

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Now available: Paper Shredders, an anthology of surf writing. Order it from your favorite bookseller.