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Sex & Ketchup by Mish (Concrete Mist Press)

Sex & Ketchup by Mish (Concrete Mist Press)

     Mish’s Sex & Ketchup is informed by the trauma of living in the Trump Era and especially of being in the quarantine for the past few month. This is not to say that her collection is entirely about this era, only that the poems seem influenced by it and the emotions drawn out by it, even when she is not directly discussing the quarantine, her poetry seems to be a reaction to it. There are of course a number of poems that reminded me a bit of the political writing of Muriel Ruykeyser or Allen Ginsberg. They comment directly on the ex-president and his policies. However, it is equally clear that this time in quarantine has caused Mish to dwell on the traumas of her distant and recent past, and these are drawn out in the collection as well. In this, she is giving a voice to the deeply felt emotions that everyone I know is feeling these days.

     A friend of mine who is a psychotherapist dealing with trauma often says that retirement is a time when people suddenly have to face the PTSD they have been ignoring because of their working life because they have fewer distractions; I don’t know whether Mish would have been dealing directly with the loss of her father and her lifetime of memories with him. Certainly she would have, and possibly in very healthy ways, but this aspect of the collection feels very much to me like the emotions that I have been dealing with. We have all had a good deal of time to think carefully about our pain and worries. She devotes an entire section of the collection to this “Tiny Dancer,” and the fact of his death runs throughout the collection. She writes about the physicality of her father’s death: 

            Dad sucks air

            with mouth open,

            lungs flooded

            with pneumonia (13).

Her feelings of loss rise up in these poems, and of course we can all relate to those now in this time of forced meditation when we are reliving in vivid detail our traumas. Later she writes,

            My father

            Appears to me that night

            In a dream,

            Silently mouthing–

            I think–

            Love you–

            Then 

            Fading away (19).

These painful emotions are gaining power in our time, and this is one of the subtle messages running through the collection.

     Mish’s anger over who caused this trauma is far less subtle, and many of the poems lay the blame for it directly on Donald Trump. If she has regrets for the choices that she has made, she has anger for the person who put her in this situation:

            The virus rolls out

            of bed

            early,

            slips into bloodstained

            swim trunks,

            adjusts

            its “Make America Great Again”

            shower cap” (5).

The virus here is personified as a Trump supporter, later in the poem a Jim Beam swilling angry and violent monster, grabbing a machete, which it tests out on the news media. Trump’s choices and the fall out from those choices are all deadly and terrifying. She is showing that he has released a violence on so many levels against the world and there seems to be no way to contain it. However, she is also able to show how this violence will turn against him:

            Your cash,

            your chic,

            your limos —

            your verve —

            all wilt

            under the virus

            the way

            ice cream cones

            melt

            in the sun (10).

This is of course one of the many strange effects of Trumpism. If the populace is affected by the pandemic, he is not immune to it. What he has wrought upon the rest of the world, he has also wrought upon himself.

     The collection often also gives us glimpses of how to make it through such time with physical release or as the title suggests sex and ketchup. Food and sex. While Mish makes a point to show us that even these have changed, she takes the time to mention our need for them. Everyone I know reports having found refuge in physical pleasures. I have too, but for me, and I think Mish, these have been very temporary and so very dominated by what is turning out to be an era of pain.

John Brantingham 8th August 2021

Building Stonehenge by Marc Maurus (Arroyo Seco Press)

Building Stonehenge by Marc Maurus (Arroyo Seco Press)

     Marc Maurus’s Building Stonehenge is revealing and vulnerable in the way that Kevin Ridgeway and T. Anders Carson’s is, allowing his readers to have access to the complex interior life that many people hold secret. It is a work that comes not so much out of a suicide attempt, but at the vitality and life that followed it. Maurus intentionally drove into a concrete barrier at sixty miles an hour without an air bag or a seat belt and lived but experienced extensive brain damage. His doctors told him that his only possible path forward to recovery was by reading constantly, which he did, and against the odds, that treatment worked. What followed was a period of exceptional creativity, introspection, and even joy, and these poems are a result of that time. On my first reading of the collection, I thought of “The Day My Life Stood Still” (51) as the central poem of the collection because it describes his injury and cause of it. I think that was a mistake however. I think what is central to the collection is what brought him back to happiness and healing.

     Healing came out of a time when he read every moment that he was awake, and certain authors, especially Beat poets like Kerouac and Ginsberg, found their way through several of these poems. He has a gratitude for them. He constructs the cento “Timothy Leary’s Dead” out of a number of sources, but relying on these poets for key lines and understanding to his meaning. What he creates is not simple nostalgia, but a way of reseeing the old ideas and reapplying them to our world now. He does not reference only these writers by any means. They just seem central to his thinking. His poems convey a broad sensibility and a good deal of reading the books that he loved. Because of his brain injury, he would read these books again and again, and to me it feels like they have become a part of who he is and how he filters experience. This is not a bad filter.

     Another theme that runs through the book is a kind of call to humanity and to recognize that everyone is deserving of the human experience. Now that he is in recovery, he is able to hold a job, and one of those is as an ice cream man. He describes a moment when he gives a child who has little money an ice cream. This basic kind of dignity seems to be the mission that all of his reading has led him to. He inspects his own complicity in the poor race relations of the United States and looks to himself to improve, showing others a way forward. He praises those who do good and exhorts us to do the same. For me it functioned as a reminder of what kindness is and how to express it.

     It is no surprise that constant reading leads to kindness. Anyone who reads deeply knows that it helps to develop empathy. I think the great take away from the collection for me was that reading and thinking deeply leads people to their best selves. It has certainly let Maurus in a positive direction.

John Brantingham 4th June 2021

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

Beat Scene 75 Winter 2014 Edited by Kevin Ring

This issue features along essay by poet, Ron Loewinsohn on the North Beach, San Francisco scene in the mid-Fifties before City Lights bookshop, Allen Ginsberg became famous and made the area a mecca for beats and hippies. Loewinsohn was encouraged to write and submit poems to LeRoi Jones, later Amiri Baraka’s Yugen magazine, by Ginsberg. This eventually led to Baraka publishing his first book, with an introduction by Ginsberg. The memoir centres on the April 1956 Berkeley Community Theater reading hosted by Kenneth Rexroth and featuring Ginsberg, Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder and Michael McClure, and how it transformed poetry reading events in the area from the literary equivalent of a polite piano recital to an informal gathering with the distinction between poets and audience blurred. On stage the poets commented on each other’s poems as they were being read and cheered good lines, along with the audience. It was here that Ginsberg gave the first full reading of Howl:

… pacing himself so that the intensity of his delivery built to three separate climaxes at the ends of the poem’s three sections. It was an extraordinary performance. It was far more than a recitation to a passive audience. This interaction between the poet and his audience affirmed the community that had been formed by the occasion: the poet articulated the community’s values and its ethos, while the community then affirmed the poet as its spokesman.’

Jerry Cimino writes about the re-discovery of Neal Cassady’s ‘Joan Anderson letter’, which inspired Jack Kerouac’s writing style. Eric Shoaf is interviewed about his career as a bibliographer and collector of William Burroughs literary works. Dan Poljak interviews Pierre Delattre, who was part of the North Beach scene in the late 50 and 60s about his memories, in particular of the arrival and influence of the Black Mountain College alumni and also Colin Wilson’s The Outsider.

Jim Burns’s essay on Discovery magazine, the paperback pocket-book size journal, edited by Vance Bourjaily, details its relevance to the Greenwich Village scene. Kevin Ring offers his thoughts on Tom Waits reading of Charles Bukowski’s Nirvana poem, on a film set in Forest Hill, London, and Paul Lyons essay on John Wieners quotes heavily from The Journal of John Wieners is to be called 707 Scott Street for Billie Holiday 1959 (Sun & Moon Press, 1996) and delineates its background.

The joy of Beat Scene is always in the discovery of forgotten writers, poets and magazines and its extensive review section. Here David Holzer writes about Terry Taylor’s Baron’s Court, All Change (1961), an English beat novel, republished by Five Leaves Press in 2012 in its New London Editions. The novel has received a strong review in Modern Review describing it as ‘an essential piece of literature that, as Kerouac’s On The Road or Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, sums up not only a generation or movement, but a sentiment of restless youth and rootless verve that lives on in today’s society as much as in any other’.

As ever, there is much to enjoy in Beat Scene. Subscriptions are 4 for £26. Email: kev@beatscene.freeserve.co.uk

David Caddy 28th January 2015

Poetry Penguin

Fifty years ago this year Penguin started their series of volumes each containing the work of three poets. Penguin Modern Poets was a startling and splendidly eclectic venture than ran to 27 volumes over the next thirteen years and it says something about the faith a publishing firm had in both its readership and the value of the poets published. In 1962 the first volume must have sounded a safe note with its choice of Lawrence Durrell, Elizabeth Jennings and R.S. Thomas but by the following year Christopher Middleton was there and the American West Coast scene was represented by generous selections from Gregory Corso, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Allen Ginsberg. To suggest a measure of the importance of the Penguin venture here it might be worth recalling that Andrew Crozier’s American supplement to Granta and Charles Tomlinson’s Black Mountain supplement to Ian Hamilton’s the Review did not appear until 1964. The series continued its highlighting of the Americans in 1967 with Penguin Modern Poets 9: Denise Levertov, Kenneth Rexroth and William Carlos Williams. Number 12 presented the punchy world of former San Quentin inmate William Wantling and in 1969 Charles Bukowski appeared alongside Philip Lamantia and Harold Norse. The series gave some context for the use of the word ‘Modern’ by re-issuing work by David Gascoyne, W.S. Graham (17), Adrian Stokes (23) and offering space to the more recent voices of Tom Raworth and Lee Harwood (19). It was a remarkable achievement and Geoff Ward’s comment in The Salt Companion to Lee Harwood is worth bearing in mind in terms of what it tells us about the poetry world of 1971: ‘Tom Raworth, packaged alongside John Ashbery and Harwood in volume 19 of the Penguin Modern Poets series, offers work that is broadly comparable at this early stage in its insistence on present tense actualities, rather than their ironised recovery by experience at a metrical remove.’

The Biggest Poetry Meeting in the English Speaking World – A Documentary

On 11 June 1965, 7000 people witnessed the first meeting of American and English Beat poets such as Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso and Ernst Jandl. Someone made a documentary, Wholly Communion, about it.

Hard to imagine poetry attracting an audience of that magnitude these days.

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