Book Review

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Linda Lerner

A Great Disorder (New and Selected Poems)
by Frank Murphy
And Then Press
210 West 10th Street, New York, 10014
2015, Trade Paperback. 83pp., $17. 00

A dangerous neighborhood the poet is warned to stay out of is his own head. Too late. He’s already there and so are we following him in poem after poem into the absurdity that underlies our quotidian lives. “I have seen the future,” he says as he walks along West 4th Street, things changing, “one paper coffee cup at a time.”

Nothing is what it seems for Murphy, whose double vision makes him unsure of whether the man talking on his cell phone isn’t really talking to his shoelaces. What looks like one thing might actually be something else. He accepts nothing at face value. “I mean, you never know what’s / going on, do you?” In a similar vein, the answer to why we are here becomes a kind of Zen koan: it is because we are not there. (“Phil asked Me ‘Why Are We Here?’”

In a collection of poems that vary in style and complexity, as though they were written in vastly different times, certain themes remain constant: one is the sense of loss. There’s the ship his father waited his whole life to come in “waited for something, /some cargo/ some passenger, /or maybe a navigator. . .(which) had to do with money…all lost at sea.”

Thinking of loss starts him on a kind of stream of consciousness mussing. “It’s all right to be lost On Greenwich Village,” he says, (“Hank Greenburg was born on Barrow Street?”) but there are those triangles, “blocks that have lost their fourth corner. No longer rectangles and definitely not squares. What happened to those blocks that got lost?

In “The Truth About Dinosaurs” Murphy obliquely answers the question: “ . . .they/never became extinct. They are as big as /ever in that place in your brain.”

Another theme has to do with accidents. A person bumps into you on a train or there’s a missed connection because you hold the door open for someone that causes a chain of unforeseeable events. Even when everything is going on “like it’s always gone down” something could happen to shatter it. (“Kami”) “He’s got a gun,” someone shouts. This man with the gun can morph into any number of things in a Murphy poem.

Ultimately what underlies these themes is Murphy’s attempt to discover exactly where he is and why. Maybe life as he knows it is dying, but he keeps walking through his Greenwich Village neighborhood, as he once walked with soldiers…/and. . .stopped a war. Tired and often in pain, there’s that voice in his head he can’t still: ”keep moving soldier,/There are so many wars to stop.”


Linda Lerner

Lyrical Grain, Doggerel Chaff, & Pedestrian Preoccupations
By Dave Roskos
Cat in the Sun Book
5 Edgewood Road, Binghamton, NY 13903.
$12.00 (available on Amazon ( use Dave not David for it to come up) & the publisher.

Lyrical Grain, Doggerel Chaff, & Pedestrian Preoccupations By Dave Roskos, Cat in the Sun Books, 5 Edgewood Road, Binghamton, NY 13903. $12.00

“the rimes are rolled / & the tales are spun” sets off this collection of poems written between 1983 and 2014 to take us on a raucous journey through America’s underground where the artist sometimes survives by trading poetry broadsides for groceries. Beneath the poet’s fight against addiction to drugs and addiction to cynicism he says, “it’s a wonder, they say, that I’m still alive.” But survival against all odds is what ultimately wins out in this journey Roskos takes on.

“We follow the trajectory of his mind, which constitutes the order of these poems: “RANDOM is best—“he writes. “the way things fall /& land.” This takes us from AA meetings to Laundromats, selling in flea markets and hauling furniture as a mover, to his children, Ayler and Jen; music riffs through “junk dreams” and talk of poetry—d.a. levy, Anthony George among others. Often feeling “Flush/&broke/at the same time” it’s his mind and poetry that frees him from living just “a nickel-dime/existence.”

Poems about his father, a man he calls Storm, are some of the most interesting in which the poet views him, both as a scared child watching him drunk, “punch(ed) out all the windows/in the French door…go after (his) mom again, but also as the same man who “never let the cops/come into the house/with their guns. / he made them/take them out…lock them in their cars…because there were/children in the house….and the cops/would comply.”

It’s this double edged vision which allows the poet to both stand outside himself and experience something at the same time that infuses many of the best poems; he never emerges as a victim, or seems to be asking for pity. Sometime in mid life after what appears to have been another bad trip or overdose he wakes up in the hospital, tears out his IV against advice, and says, “I will not be back here / asking for another chance.”

Much humor is evident in many of the poems; it often arises from the absurdity of ordinary life. In the middle of having dinner in a Szechuan restaurant he remembers having left two potatoes cooking in the oven, tries to call his house-mates to shut it off but the one whose last name he remembers is unlisted. He manages to get hold of a car, get home in time to turn off the oven and get back to the restaurant before his soup got cold. He looks across at his future wife and thinks: “We’ve got to thank the Goddess/for the small things in life.”

Linda Lerner Cont...

Roskos is both fighting the demons in himself and those in a system where people are at the mercy of petty bureaucrats. He notes, “the country slowly turned into a police state/& no one seemed to notice” (“Gun Racks into Book Shelves.) ”There’s no difference between “The war then / the war now…poor boys…are “disposable as shell casings.” This is a beautifully produced book with art by Angela Mark, (who did the intriguing cover), Loring Hughes, Michael Shores, Jen Dunford and S.Clay Wilson that accompanies some of the poems, transforming them through their own vision: the poems also become a jumping off place for these artists to create something entirely separate.

There’s no limit to how far a single poem can take you, sometimes:

“A coffee cup / can
contain / an ocean.”

--A collection of poem well worth tripping through--

Beach of Dreams
© Patricia Carragon Beach of Dreams