Book Review

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Donald Lev

By Andrew Glaze
NewSouth Books
105 S. Court Street, Montgomery, Al 36104
2015, 96 pp, $21.95.

Seems like yesterday, not four and a half decades ago, in Manhattan, I became enthralled with this poet, whose carefully crafted carefree dancing lines seemed to contain a surprise in each and every one of them. Maybe he was reading his title poem from Damned Ugly Children, which came close to winning a Pulitzer, "My poems, you are damned ugly children/ I love every one of you anyway--/ your scabby hook noses, wall eyes and crab feet." The next two lines are important for understanding Glaze's work, his struggle for his own vision: "I could swear I didn't make you for their judgment,/ and I'd only half lie." And toward the end, also important: "Didn't I get you out of the iron claws/ of my own possessive guts ...?"

Now Andrew Glaze is 95 years old, is the poet laureate of his home state of Alabama (when I knew him he was more like a refugee from that state) and has a new book out!"

The opening poem in Overheard in a Drugstore is "Mr. Frost," a parable involving the old poet on a visit to Alabama and a 107 year old black ex-miner. Glaze was, no doubt, along on that trip in the mid- 1950's when the event, real or imagined, could have occurred. This, along with material showing Frost's support of Glaze's early work, is documented on the two previous pages. The parable is as worthy of contemplation as any in Scripture. The poem concludes with Mr. Frost, speaking to a coterie of local poets and grad-students of the ancient miner (with all his poverty and his black lungs), says, "He got his life pretty well licked into shape,/ and as a pledge of concern and farewell,/ I'll buy him a bottle of whiskey..."

Overheard in a Drugstore is a mixture of recent poems and work published over the years that have not found homes in earlier collections. In either case, the selection is now. The dance is still there, nearly as acrobatic, but just a bit more, shall we say, graceful? You might expect Glaze to have something to say on aging in this volume and he does, as in these initial lines from "Old Poet:"

          Clouds don't come at him any more
          seething inside with green fire, nor
          does the skin of lovers often proclaim,
          like a trumpet, fearful surprises.

But, thankfully, Andrew Glaze is still up to his old tricks. Back in 1966, in Damned Ugly Children, he found someone building a dirigible in his parlor. Now, in "Ambition" he is telling us

          Dante said ambition rose from hell.
          Last week, beating upon my door,
          it sat all smelly, in my waiting room,
          sprawled devilish in my captain's chair.

A bit of a moralist is the poet Andrew Glaze, whether examining his own frailties, or those of others, or of nations, or of Creation. This is almost everywhere in the collection, and is summed up for me in these lines from "Piñata:"

    So soon as we're born, we grasp what
    we've been dropped into, and we try to clamber back.
    But we must stay and share the absurdity
    with its baffling pot-full of mysteries,

    for the universe is mad...

And can one call Glaze a "moralist of the Absurd"? Maybe.

There are poems of travel, where meticulously described nature becomes infused with ghosts of history. In "Blue Ridge" are "...vast divisions of blue-gray butternut armies...// Racketing with fierce crashes of musketryÉ" In "Sunset Rock" we are brought "up the farthest slope of the Ramps," perhaps within sight of Billy Rose's house, invoking ghosts from Prohibition days, including show girls, "Volstead dicks" and "ghostly vermouth."

Other places of travel includes a hotel in Paris when the poet was six and heard that "Les Milnes" had arrived at the same hotel, and he longed in vain to meet Christopher Robin. "A Visit to Barbados" recounts an aging couple's day at the beach. Truthful reporter that he is, the author tells the whole story. Then there is the monumental "Manhattan above Manhattan--a Triptych" that can well stand with his other New York classics like "Fantasy Street" and "Reality Street."

Andrew Glaze's language of dance and insight travels everywhere the human psyche, the human being, hides. Sometimes he travels very deep. Deeper maybe than this reviewer has chosen to go. Overheard in a Drugstore is a look at this mad universe by a poet who has studied it for nearly a century with a gaze that is intellectually tough, damned fearless, and always humorous. This is the work of one of the very finest poets in America, yet reading it might leave you (quietly) in stitches.