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Donald Lev

by Dave Roskos
Cat in the Sun Books, 5 Edgewood Road, Binghamton, NY 13903,
2016, 168 pp., paper, $12

Lyrical grain. Good description of these poems by a creator of New Jersey’s Proletcult, the impresario of the great displays of nitty gritty literary excellence Big Hammer and other auxiliary periodical titles, and Iniquity Press/Vendetta Books’ Builder of books.

The “doggerel chaff”…well that’s a value judgment. I say if you can bring off a bit of end rhyme with the grace Roskos does, that’s quality.

Dissonance is Bliss
Dissonance is Bliss
Dissonance is Bliss
Got a window to the future
& a heart clenched like a fist
Gonna pound today out of tomorrow
Hammer down sad sorrow

Pedestrian preoccupations? An old Socialist I used to work for, Cicero Codina, probably quoting an even older socialist, used to say, “There’s two kinds of conscious. Class-conscious and unconscious.” Dave Roskos is not unconscious. He has a consistent esthetic and consistent point of view. Whatever class or classes there be below the so-called middle class, the quotidian of such is what is reflected, bewailed and celebrated in these poems. They’re basically about survival, and often exhibit a kind of Hemingway-ish “grace under pressure” optimism. My favorites are what I would call adventure poems (Roskos is a great story-teller): “450 Degrees” where the protagonist fears potatoes he left baking in his oven would burn his house down, and “The Machine Is Broken” about clothes getting stuck in the laundromat’s machine. I know they don’t sound it, but they’re wildly funny and real and you’ll love them.

Drugs is a large part of the world of these poems. Addiction is something the author knows too well, and treats sympathetically and often lyrically.

Death calls the addict home
with promise of warmth
in an opiate womb.
empty as the inside
of a hollowed out moon.

But Rosko’s work is about survival and endurance of people, addicted or not, whose lives are not made easier by a super rich society that eludes them. There is poetry about peddling poor goods in a flea market and about work in general. One of the finest pieces in the book is “Overtime Suite” which begins:

I saw garbage gleaming in the sun
aluminum foil flattened into asphalt—
some worker’s sandwich wrapper,
a permanent part of the parking lot.
½ moon, almost 2 a.m.
at work

The poem continues through the shift, including the worker/protagonist’s finding time to sketch a poem. In Part III, is this meditation:

Redemption through work.
Addicts w/work ethics.
Artists w/work ethics.

So the poem continues:

Sweat falling off
a worker’s face,
push-broom oblivion.
solitude in yr thoughts.
a smile on pay day.
flirting w/bank tellers.

The book (amply illustrated by Angela Mark, Michael Shores, and others of Roskos’ usual graphic arts suspects) reads like a good novel; full of interesting characters and events. I think the soul of the work is expressed in a little poem called “Veterans”:

In the laundromat
lovers fold last night’s linen
like tired soldiers
folding flags.

A delightful book. Buy it.