Book Review

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A.W. Winans

The Crow and I
by Neeli Cherkovski
R,L. Crow Publishers, PO Box 362, Penn Valley, Ca 95946
78 Pages. $12.95

When I get into my car and turn on the radio, I select a station known for playing lyrical songs. A good song is in fact a lyrical poem. They are both meant to be heard, whether out loud, or dancing on the page.

I became acquainted with the poetry of Cherkovski in the sixties and published him in the seventies when I edited and published Second Coming. He has moved from a poet who was once under the influence of Charles Bukowski to become one of today's best lyrical poets.

The poems in The Crow and I "sing" to you like a good song sings to the essence of your very being, from a haunting Hank Williams song of lost love (Your Cheating Heart) to the rolling thunder of Bob Dylan.

A lyrical poet almost without exception speaks in the first person where he (or she) is intensely involved in the poem, expressing the mood or emotion of the poet in a heart-felt way. The listener or in this case the reader becomes by default involved in the specifics of the poem.

The Crow and I runs the full range of emotions from love, dreams, fear, apprehension, nature, to the dark face of death. Cherkovski, like a talented Maestro, directs us on a twisting road, that intimately reveals the poets personal feelings, hopes, and state of mind.

I won't attempt to analyze or dissect the relationship between the poems and the title of the book, I'll leave that up to the academics.

I've witnessed Cherkovski move on from his once morbid outlook on death to the acceptance of age, and its inevitable outcome: these huge blue elephants/come into my room/I can hardly move/they have no respect for the furniture/or the paintings/they don't know that I'll be sixty-nine/in three months/that it makes me nervous/they don't understand/the culture of youth/and the desire not to die/yet there is some indication/they have profound feeling/and mourn their dead/with a blast of the trumpets and a drum roll.

What we have here is a poet who has matured (as he approaches his 70Th birthday); a poet unafraid to write about how it feels to grow old, and coming to terms with his mortality: 67/it somehow doesn't fit/but I must live this way/walking onto the deck/meditating over over the garden/tossing a dead beetle/into the shadow of the banana tree. And further on in the poem: all is fine, grace inspires/my garden is clean and orderly/a miniature paradise

There are also traces of humor as found in the poem In Praise of My Happy Pill: every evening at 5 p.m. I pop one in my mouth/and drink a glass of sparkling water/the pill is quick to open every cell/and liberate my brain. the doctor said it would take weeks/for the full effect/but for me it was instant/one day down the next day buoyant, And further down in the poem: there are two little men in white smocks/jumping from synapse to synapse/in my head/pouring medicine/adroitly and with love And yet further down in the poem: I feel these hard working scientists/dedicated to keeping me happy/and helping me thrive.

When I think of a crow, I think of its haunting "caw" and its wings attacking the sky. The poet sings too, but with his tongue and imagination. In this nicely produced book, they form a powerful bond.

Cherkovski's poetry just keeps getting better over time. The lyrics are like a drummer on a roll, increasing in intensity as if the drumsticks were frantically squeezing every ounce out of life.

Most people take the beauty of life for granted, but Cherkovski sees it as the saving grace that allows us to accept life in all its forms, a life that was designed to end in death. It is the in between that sustains us and poetry the life food we nourish on.

I question the use of back cover blurbs in general as I feel the poems in a book should speak on their own, as they do in The Crow and I. There is only one Walt Whitman. The poet Cherkovski has worked long and hard to develop a strong and confident voice and needs no comparison to other poets.

One closing thought. I was born in San Francisco and remain the only family member or friend still residing here, so I'll forgive Cherkovski for his poem "Eviction One More Beautiful Day." In this poem the poet mourns the changing face of San Francisco. But change is inevitable. After all, Cherkovski himself has changed from an early disciple of Bukowski to become one of our more talented lyrical poets.

The fog and the gulls and Ocean Beach will always be part of the City where I was born and still reside today. Neeli, a transformed Los Angeles poet, has found his niche in the City by the Bay

And that's a good change.

David Gershator
Island-Profiles: Rock-Happy