Lehman Weichselbaum: THREADS
WELCOME TO THE BARBECUE by Ron Kolm:
Automedia 52 pps. $10
LIVING WITHOUT SKIN by Gabriel Don:
Fly By Night Press 127 pps.
A PRAYER FOR THE LESS VIOLENT OFFENDERS: by Michael Graves:
Nirala Publications 55 pps.
There are two kinds of poetry books. The first, most familiar variety, is the volume of poems where each poem stands alone. The individual poems may be linked together by a binding theme or forays into less common forms, but each lives or falls on its own inherent merits.
The other version presents poems vitally linked to other poems surrounding it. The poems might join as chapters in a continuous narrative thread or as notations in a functional journal that takes poetic form. The advantages of this strategy affords the more palpable flow of a larger verbal canvas, as well as the implied exemption from the standard critical judgment that would otherwise impose a definitive quality rating on the more customary autonomous single poem.
Ron Kolm never announces that his poems are smaller parts of a larger beast, but in Welcome to the Barbecue, his fifth book, the context leaves no doubt. Each poem has a title and occupies its own page, but don't be fooled. It is yet another dispatch from an unbroken long march toward some elusive personally fulfilling Tipperary.
Against our habitual expectations of poetry's stock pleasures, that's why some poems here get away with shining less brightly than its more scintillant mates, keeping in mind that, in the interest of keeping it real, Kolm characteristically runs with a verse that tends to avoid flourishes of sound and image to begin with. Welcome to the Barbecue is a photo album in words. You have your snapshot candids and you have your formal portraits. Each tells its own story, but all, in their artless randomness combine together to tell a far greater story. You may wish to play critic on this or that frame, but don 't linger too long. You could miss the metaphorical big picture.
The incidents recounted are within themselves roughly equal parts highlight lifetime events and more of the same. So Kolm can safely let his language go flat, or so we are to infer, in his ongoing litany of earthly dejections (“She laughs/Unwrapping another sandwich”), (“I open a beer/Stalling for time/And I don't know why.”), (“I seem to have lost/My sense of humor.”).
Of course everybody knows that even by the laws of this sort of loosely serial storytelling in poetry form, it's those odd flashes of irrefutable brilliance that in the end make the whole exercise worthwhile.
Kolm's gift is jelling his gray tones into a quick burst of lyrical magic when the muse strikes him.
He plans a vacation
Country by country.
He has been
Unlucky in love--
A wife, two children
And several in-laws
Populate his past
Like bright souvenirs.
Sitting in his armchair
He navigates the world.
Gabriel Don's Living Without Skin, her first collection, is a pastiche of modes in poetry and prose. But headings of verses like "September 3 2015" and "Untitled Poem 25" are an obvious tipoff to the author's casually diaristic leanings. The considerable if not exclusive premium is more on hit-and-run squibs of interest than minutely polished gems of poesy. The net product is no more or less than a physical and spiritual travelog of one young smart and ardent young Australian woman emigre's progress through her world, equipped with the requisite insight and skilled pen, as well as an unblinking emotional and carnal frankness. An approximate but alluringly rich cumulative portrait of Gabriel Don does rise from the wrack and glimmer.
In her chosen format, the author gives herself permission to meander, but here, too, the welcome high note pays the ticket.
I am fire
I am waves
I am tree
I am so heavy
holds me up
I am light.
(“June 23rd 2015”)
Michael Graves, the founder of the long-running Phoenix reading series, has his own chosen voices binding his entries together, a cast of personas that speak as figures from the Bible and classical literature, as well as from his own person. But, in a more traditional format, he makes every poem stand on its own feet, entirely apart from the others. To root himself even more squarely in a communal literary past, Graves, even when speaking from his own self, presents the kind of oracular and intimate blend of talk once commonly thought appropriate to shared ancient archetypes, a lofty mode of dramatic speech that enjoyed a long, universal currency in American letters until the sweeping hyper-democratic vernacularizations beginning in the heterodoxical mid-1960's.
Where a venture like this most counts, Graves, expressing himself directly or through his designated mouthpieces, strives to make his resonant narratives of Catholic guilt and Greek tragic pain accessibly personal. And he can go lyrically quiet.
Like a cresting wave
Such a flowing in her
The warm laving flow of her
Up her depths
Bending over me.