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Table of

Linda Lerner

Moonglow a Go—Go  (new and selected poems)
by Joan Jobe Smith
NYQ Books,
P.O. Box 2015,
Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10113

“I’m getting the hell out of Texas,” a metaphor for when Joan Jobe Smith feels “Trapped between rocks & 100 hard places” underlies this collection that reads like a novel I couldn’t put down. Those words have their origin in a 120-degree August day in Paris Texas where the poet was born, a day when people “joked, Hell is a lot hotter in Texas” and her father cried, “California here I come,” after five years returning to a place Smith would never emotionally leave.

We see the poet as escape artist: surviving bad bosses, husbands, wrong turns, across the decades which geographically divide her America in the last half of the 20th century, to finally discover a place she’ll run toward. “You gotta write about all that madness, Kid,” her friend, Bukowski, told her, and that’s exactly what she’s done right into another century. After her first husband walked out, leaving her with a spoiled bottle of milk in the fridge, she begins to go-go dance to feed her kids, and what would eventually feed her poems.

When Smith gets in the first of many cars, the music blaring, she takes the reader on a journey across a country not portrayed on TV at that time. Music is an emotional road sign alerting the reader to where she is in every decade. A child of the 50’s, she dreams of wearing slinky black dresses that Audrey Hepburn and Claudette Colbert wore and dancing “’cheek to cheek till the wee small hours of the morning’ with someone named Cary, Rock or Marcello;” it was one way to survive working in sleazy bars, with jukeboxes’ ear-busting music, and a supervisor nobody could please, constantly threatening lay-offs.

“I was a go-go girl when all the good women were housewives / baked cookies for their babies on their Sears Kenmore gas ranges” she writes. But, it wasn’t all drudgery…” Some nights it was fun being a go-go girl.”

By the early 60’s she tried to imitate Jackie Kennedy, “… And then / (she) married the Greek Magnate, (Joan) married a manic-depressant then later that hippie and things / were never again/ so nice and neat.” During the Viet Nam years of flower children, war protesters, the women’s lib movement, etc., the poet listened to Sinatra, Mathis and Nat King Cole, dreaming about the “other man” she might have married, the perfect other man who would have saved her from all that.


One does not realize at first how skillfully compressed many of these poems are until considering the collection as a whole: personal history, an alternative one dreamed of, and social changes are so smoothly layered, it may go unnoticed at first as long lines sweep the reader down a road well off the beaten path.

There are tales her mother tells of what it was like growing up in Texas, of “droughts and brown famine,” of getting letters from her army medic father in Algeria, FDR’s speeches, and about those six million … ; her grandmother, who didn’t know much of anything about what was happening in the modern world, provides a verbal patchwork quilt of another woman’s America.

While the songs infused throughout this collection evoke a kind of nostalgia for another era, that is repudiated when, during the Watts Riots in ’65, she stood on a roof top watching what was happening and knew she would never write a book titled, “The Good Old Days.”

The final few poems in this collection bring us into the 21st century, to illness, and loss; “her heart finally breaks apart” on Dec. 7th, 2016, she’s rushed into The ER and she “waits to die.” Once again this escape artist survives, to writes, “dear god, I / really like / being alive.”

That man she always dreamed about dancing with appears in the poem, “Picking the Lock on the Door to Paradise” dedicated to Fred Voss, 1999… “a tall dark and handsome poet” she’s teaching to dance the foxtrot to Frank Sinatra’s “Our Love Is Here to Stay.” And this time, it does.