Original Poetry: Summer at Sixteen

The lightening morning
      in early July. I’m behind
the wheel of a new-to-me
      ’83 Dodge Aries;
my best friend
      sits shotgun.

Our wide, smooth
      country roads
slice the cornfields
      in full tassel
and morning fog gathering
      around the many creeks.

We have leather gloves
      and day-old summer jobs
shaping pines
      at a Christmas tree farm
carved from an orderly forest.
      And we are late.

A car–the other car
      is here in a grinding
shower of metal and glass
      against my windshield
and gone again. Swallowed
      into the white world.

My jittery limbs
      quake, threatening
to collapse
      if not
for the pounding–
      my heart; my head.

My friend
      from the bridge of his nose.
The innocuous visor
      tilted down.

Through haze
      I can now see
the other car
      has come to rest.
White pierces
      its shattered taillights.
[Check out other original poems here.]

Short Story Review: “Thy Kingdom Come” by Koye Oyedeji

3 of 5 stars.

Over time, the life stages of an urban neighborhood become apparent: birth, decay, rebirth and gentrification. It’s an evolution of sorts–all too clear for those raised in a neighborhood and then away for a hefty period of time. The nostalgia of revisiting the old neighborhood is tempered by the inevitable change for the better or worse.

This tale is a memoir and a homecoming. The author has returned to the Walworth neighborhood in London where he spent his childhood. Now he’s been away in America for the better part of a decade and the loss and gain of businesses and his personal landmarks confronts him. His childhood best friend has now become a Big Man On Campus in this new-old neighborhood. As his friend is a writer who writes about their neighborhood, the friend is partially responsible for the perceptual shift there. The friend’s central position in Walworth also reveals to what extent the outsider has erased his own connection to his childhood.

This tale appears in the anthology An Unreliable Guide to London by Influx Press, London. I received my copy of this anthology directly from one of the contributing authors through bookreviewdirectory.wordpress.com.
[Check out my other reviews here.]

Poetry Review: Straight James / Gay James by James Franco

Straight James/Gay JamesStraight James/Gay James by James Franco
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collective work falls in line with poetic performance art pieces more than it does a poetry chapbook as James Franco explores many aspects of persona. The poetics by itself is passable but never sublime. However, the teasing and toying of personal versus public persona and the concept of a person as a series of situational masks work together to elevate this collection into something greater than the sum of its parts.

James Franco is famous. He knows it, as does his reader. So rather than shirk the mantle, he embraces it through caricatures of himself, not unlike his self-portrayal in This is the End. His open awareness of putting a collection out there as a celebrity is enough to assign the entire speaker voice to character-public persona. Meanwhile, one must assume that the closest he gets to being away from the celebrity persona is with his own family which makes many appearances throughout the collection.

The second poem in the collection, “Mask,” shows his stance when he describes himself as “White, young, lusty, Sym- / Metrical, dark browed; / This mask is the face / Of Gucci, officially.” This is not the voice of someone convinced of his own importance. And yet it is a role he gladly fills “back to wherever the cameras need me,” he notes in “Custom Hotel.” Aside from the masks of actor, poet and celebrity, James hints at his masks as brother and son. Also present are masks that he ascribes to devils and serial killers. There is a darkness waiting to be understood. In “Black Death”, James considers the persona of LA serial killer Richard Ramirez, preying on James’ chosen town. He also draws connections to his process of exploring masks, with the process employed by poet mentor, Frank Bidart, and other artists he admires, Lana Del Rey and James Dean.

While many poems cite specific moments or jobs in Franco’s life, a cluster of 3 in the middle speak of and to his brothers. Throughout them, one gets the sense that James both sees himself more clearly and loses himself in them. From “Brother One:”

Sometimes two brothers split.
Their looks are so similar

They could be twins,
But inside, one takes the dark

Road, and one takes the light.
Tom followed my father

Yet more confusion and potentially jealousy surface in “Brother Two” about James’ youngest brother, Dave, who followed him into Hollywood. “There are probably myriad little things we both do, handed down through DNA, and from proximity to the love of the same parents. / I try not to look for these things, because I’ll think that they’re mine, and that he has stolen them.”

Inescapable is the blatantly queer title to the collection shared with a fictional interview at the end of the collection in which two personae discuss James’ sexuality. Sexuality is yet another mask for James, but gender is not. An earlier poem, “Hello Woman,” laments:

If I ever got high, it would be to be
The woman. If I ever did porn,
I’d want to be the woman.
I don’t want to be the man in woman

I just want to be woman.
But I will never be woman.
I am man, trapped in man.
I have no escape from this body.

In the interview “Straight James / Gay James” which originally appeared in a magazine, the two characters discuss what it means to knowingly have fame and a public persona. Ironically, Straight James plays more coy, while Gay James plays it more, er, straight:

GJ: But my question is, who is the real James, and who is the mask?

SJ: . . . I like my queer persona. I like that it’s so hard to define me and that people always have to guess about me. . . Not that I do what I do to confuse people, but as long as they are confused, I get to play.

SJ: . . . It’s not like I call the paparazzi on myself or anything like that; I’m just having a conversation with the public. If you don’t want to be part of the convo, check out.

GJ: Is this interview a nonfictional statement about who you are?
SJ: Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that I am as James Franco, but no in the sense that it is a public statement in an entertainment magazine, which means that it is part of my public persona and not my private veridical self.

This collection is no place to look for real personal insight about Franco, but it does master the craft of persona in many little ways. It’s also honest in its dishonesty. And not without humor:

GJ: Okay, let’s kiss in the mirror again.
SJ: You got it, baby.
(They kiss.)

I received my copy of this collection through NetGalley.

[Check out my other reviews here.]

Your Vision + Their Vision = Revision

Rewrites have to happen–that’s just a part of life. They’re just less fun when directed by editors, writing instructors, beta-readers . . . There’s that sinking moment of “things not working as intended.” Que sera sera.

A couple weeks ago (here) I posted about being asked to write a piece for consideration by a new comic book company. The piece I wrote was third person, present tense, script style, ie how I picture graphic books. The feedback I got was to make it first-person, past tense, memoir style. And that adaptation took me 2 weeks, due to work and life and procrastination and surliness in various combinations. I don’t even know if I’m on time to be considered still, but it’s sent off. And I feel much relieved.

Now I have 2 very different accounts of the same event. That’s a win. And maybe not a big deal to people used to doing writing prompts. But I’m not, at least, not since poetry-writing grad school 7 years ago. So I grumped and groused until I got it done.

Here’s the thing: the story tells of an emergency and disaster. A death. My original immediacy was in the present tense. The new immediacy is in the first person narration. These are big changes, but done for now. Until I hear back from them again with a new suggestion . . .

Some say death is the great equalizer. But in my 6 years as a nurse, I’ve begun to believe that sickness and dying are the equalizers in that it can come for anybody at any time and no amount of life experience can predict how one will deal with it.

I’m Trixie Carmichael, a nurse on 4West, a medical floor, at Youngstown Township Municipal Hospital. Sometimes it’s almost easier to talk about what I don’t deal with as a nurse. 4West is that floor—the one without babies and kids, without surgical patients, without cancers, without psych. And rarely do patients die on our watch as we have an ICU for that. What we do have is bad blood pressure, trouble breathing, seizures, unexplained aches and pains, and diabetes. We stabilize, we control, and then we send you home better than you came in. But, I’m not surprised when you come back a few months later . . .

Review: Peter Orlovsky, A Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer by Peter Orlovsky edited by Bill Morgan

Peter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat WriterPeter Orlovsky, a Life in Words: Intimate Chronicles of a Beat Writer by Peter Orlovsky
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This collection of poems, letters and journals entries with a few random photos thrown in was not what I expected it to be. That leaves me disappointed, but the fault is mine. Bill Morgan is an archivist and this is nothing if not an archive. It’s just not much more than that.

Peter Orlovsky, as Allen Ginsberg’s companion and lover for over 40 years, was in the thick of the Beat Movement and chronicling his experiences in his journal for much of it. Through his eyes and voice, the travels and musings of many key figures in the movement are witnessed extensively: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Gary Snyder, and Neal Cassady. As Ann Charters notes in the Foreward, “For literary historians, Peter’s account of his daily life with Ginsberg, Corso, Kerouac, and Burroughs is probably the most detailed we will ever have.” Also seen are a lot of drugs, sex and jazz/rock-n-roll/punk. These are the key figures and key subjects that the movement is known for. In a more conservative time, the beats pushed the envelope and were open and experimental with their drugs and their sexuality both in words and action:

[excerpt from a Nov. 03, 1958 letter from Peter Orlovsky to Gregory Corso] ” . . . Jack [Kerouac] has been banging us [Orlovsky and Ginsberg] for being queers–especially when he’s drunk–so I, when Jack comes on like this, go after Jack with outpouring of love and raping him with words. . . . A few days ago . . . [Bach] was playing and such beautiful music that we all danced to it and it was so beautiful I started to blow Allen and Jack [was] sitting there–Allen was so scared and shy in front of Jack that he wanted to go into the other room, but I wanted to blow Allen while he danced to beautiful music, so angel magical it sounded–I’m tired of being afraid of Jack and shying my words up . . . “

Undoubtedly, for those interested in the lives of the Beats, this scrap book of letters and journals will satisfy. It also gives almost equal time to Peter’s letters and journals to and about his family which proved to be illuminating. The book starts with Peter at 21, months before meeting Allen. He’s been discharged from the army as psychologically unfit citing “schizophrenia, paranoid.” His parents have split while each spending time in psychiatric hospitals. Eventually, Peter and all four siblings of his will spend time in psychiatric hospitals. Terms such as frontal lobotomy and electroshock therapy get thrown around. Needless to say, Peter is not exactly stable before he starts to experiment with, use and abuse drugs.

I was disappointed, however, because I wanted to see the letters and poetry contextualized. I did not want this book to be a companion. We see the letters that Peter wrote, but none of the replies, nothing written to him. I don’t want to have to look up the letters to Peter to fill in the conversations. This was especially true of the poetry. I wanted to see the poetics at work. The Beats changed the game with poetry; they broke and re-wrote the rules. Peter was there when Allen wrote and read Howl for the first time. Peter also later lectured on poetry. But, no copies of a single lecture are included. What he had to say on the subject of poetics is conspicuously missing. Charters wrote that Peter inspired Beat writers with his “emotionally naked, loopy, and occasionally luminescent poetry,” while Morgan wrote that Peter “failed to realize that each of those writers had been influenced by knowing Peter and witnessing his free-spirited way of approaching life.” Not one example of another writer citing Orlovsky’s poetry or stylings is included. Morgan also tells the reader that Orlovsky’s handwriting was atrocious and spelling horrendous, leading to much re-editing [and guessing] on his part to create readable text. I think a single image of an Orlovsky original would make that point. But none are included. Finally, in a note on a journal entry deemed a prose-poem, Morgan says that the entry was later turned into verse and then back into a prose-poem. I would have appreciated the inclusion of those later iterations, but they too are not included.

This book does exactly what it sets out to do: be a scrapbook for Orlovsky’s journals and letters. It does not do what I had hoped, but I may not be the target audience. My Master’s is in Creative Writing Poetry, so I am interested in the poetics, the philosophy, the lectures and the process. In particular, my undergraduate thesis was on the “transformations of American poetics” coming out of WWII. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was my main case study. I was not interested in drug-fueled three-ways . . . but that is what this book has to offer. I received an uncorrected first proof of this book and a nice letter from Paradigm Publishers through Goodreads. Hopefully, that did not taint my view.
[Check out my other reviews here.]