Cross, selected poems by Rob Whitbeck, Pygmy Forest Press,
685 Ninth Street, Springfield, OR 97477, CD, $12.
poems from Rob Whitbeck's first two volumes of poetry, Oregon
Sojourn and The Taproot Confessions, these 20 tracks will
nail you betwixt the eyes. Whitbeck doesn't write like many
people out there. Maybe that's because he comes from a place
that's as tough, pitiless, and beautiful as the eastern Oregon
landscape in lives in. Most of the poets hanging out their
shingle in Poetryville USA would go home crying to mama if
they had to walk a mile in Whitbeck's boots. Unlike so many
university types who talk about the working class (if they
talk about us at all) like we were a graduate thesis, Rob
Whitbeck is one of us. He walks the walk and talks the talk.
He's lived it and earned the right by sheer survival to tell
what he sees. With the voice of a folk singer and more street
cred than the last 30 years of Pitt Press publications put
together, this disc should be in the CD player of every pickup
truck between Whitehorse and El Paso. Get it. Take a ride.
A Dark Wind, Poems by Timothy Young, Guitars by Glen Helgeson,
2004, Two Boots Productions, P.O. Box 53, Maiden Rock, WI
54750 (not sure of price, write for details). Spoken
words with music. This CD of the poems of Tim Young and various
musicians (and featuring the fretwork of Glen Helgeson) is
a treat for those who like their poetry delicately spiced
with la musica. Timothy Young has been writing quiet poems
of grace and power for 30 years and all of his work is a study
in sensitivity and humanity. Slip this one on for a winter's
Sunday morning and prepare to do a lot of daydreaming out
Zuckerman: Greatest Hits, 1970-2000 - Pudding House Press
- $8.95. Here is yet another example of how a modest,
saddle-stitched chapbook can be worth a hundred of those slick,
glossy publications from "name" poets with nothing
to say. The 12 poems in this chappie pack a wallop like a
horseshoe in a boxing glove. This is the kind of work you
wake up in the morning thinking about and stays with you all
day until you can get home and reread it. I don't know if
these are Marilyn Zuckerman's "Greatest Hits"-that
strikes me as a rather silly way of framing a small collection
of very good poems. I know enough of Marilyn Zuckerman's work
to say that any definitive "Greatest Hits" would
be pretty close to a volume of Collected Poems. Still, this
is a good selection and Pudding House Press should be commended
for publishing it. You should reward them for that piece of
publishing wisdom by ponying up with your poetry dollars.
No fancy packaging here: just a damn good fistful of poems.
the Heart of the Animal Life, a Measure of Impossible Humor,
by Christopher Cunningham, Nerve Cowboy Press, $6.
Every chapbook I've seen by Nerve Cowboy Press is well designed
and this one is no exception. It's a good looking little book.
However. The vast majority of the poems in this Nerve
Cowboy First Place Chapbook Winner have a first draft feel
to them. Only a bare few of the poems here give us a reason
to come back to them twice. For someone who claims in their
bio note to be a "professional risk taker" I don't
see much of it in the work. The postmodern literary DMZ is
crowded with poets in too much of a hurry to labor at their
craft or expand the emotional, intellectual and structural
borders of their poems. The problem with that is this: if
a poet doesn't care enough about their own work to put a little
effort into its construction then why should we, as readers,
care enough to read it? We wouldn't buy a CD where the songs
were hastily composed first-take demos nor would we pay top
dollar for paintings taken down from someone's refrigerator.
There's not much in this chap that could be thought of as
political except, perhaps, in a vague Bukowski-esque sort
of way. I think it's possible that Cunningham has a good book
in him, someday, somewhere down the lineif he can work
for it and not rush everything that falls out of his pen into
print. This one isn't it.
Poetry After Auschwitz, by Kent Johnson, $7 Effing Press,
703 W. 11th Street #2, Austin, TX 78701, www.effingpress.com.
It's good to see politically oriented poems that aren't afraid
to take chances with structure and language. I see a lot of
political poetry that is heavy on the political end but a
tad light on the poetry. There are good poets of conscience
who nevertheless keep mining the same turf, in the same tone,
and taking themselves far too seriously for prolonged mental
health. Kent Johnson hasn't forgotten that whatever else poetry
is, it's also about play and about being willing to experiment.
If you don't take a few risks, you'll keep doing the hamster-dance
on your wheel and never explore any new territory. I loved
the structures in this chapbook. Reading it, you understand
that anything can be used to make a poem. It's just a question
of imagination. There's a collaboration poem, a prose-poem/flash
fiction piece, a poem riffing on a typo, another using the
format of an email message and yet another apparently modeling
itself from a internet chat room. Does all of it work? I'm
not entirely sure, but I applaud Johnson's willingness to