Saturday, March 25, 2006

Charles Ries Reviews books by "Young" Poets

WORDS
By: Nancy Gauquier
12 Poems / 29 Pages / $5
Weird City Publishers
P.O. Box 8245
Santa Cruz, CA 95061

Words by Nancy Gauquier is mind blowingly clever, fast, nimble, insightful and fun. As I read Words, I thought how such new talent could write with this great range and agility? But then I found out this emerging talent was sixty years old and learned she, “flirted with theatre, tried stand-up comedy for a year or two on the gay circuit in San Francisco. They had the best comedy! And they actually let me on the stage!”

She has not been published much in the small press. “I have been published in several mostly local, now defunct, very small circulation literary magazines that very few people have ever heard of. And three publications that are still alive and functioning.” I than asked her how long she’s been writing, “I've written poetry off and on since adolescence, but only in the last few years have I decided to take it "seriously" (only I don't know if that's the right word). To commit to it. To trust myself to just keep writing. To not lose heart.” I asked her how she developed poems in this collection, “Words, Men, and Worried were all developed when I was doing comedy; Get Used To It and Angry Old Women were developed as spoken word at the New College Experimental Performance Institute. Aging Dysgracefully was the first poem I ever read at a slam (The Berkeley Slam, which is totally gung-ho and can be incredibly intense) and it was the first slam I had ever attended (out of curiosity) and I went way overtime, but it was still voted the best poem of the night. So I got reeled right in, and How Are You, The Fence Sitters Ball, My Muse, and Blues for Paul were all performed at slams (along with the other funny stuff, which the slammers love). The thing I love about the slams is -- it is so great to see so many young people caring so passionately about poetry. Any kind of poetry. Or spoken word or humor. It feels so vital and important. I think it has injected some energy into my work.”

Here is one example of her work from Words, it is titled, “Men”: “I just could never understand men! / But then I moved to the Castro, / and I discovered gay men! / Gay men are way easier to understand. / Most gay men actually want their partners / to have equal rights. / Most straight men say, “Oh, I’m all for women’s rights, I just don’t like feminists.” / That’s like saying it’s okay / if you want equal rights, / as long as you don’t think of any way / you might possibly get them.” And further along in the same poem, “I did crazier things than that / when I was young. / I used to wear this black fake-fur mini-dress / with these tight brocade bell-bottoms / and purple high-tops. / And hair down to my ass. / It was so thick, when I wore my glasses, / I looked like It! / I took acid every week! I danced naked in a graveyard in Bolinas. / I lived with a musician. / I fucked a perfect stranger / under the psychedelic puppet stage / at the Avalon Ballroom. / That’s what youth is for! / I should have said, “Yeah, I’m gonna die my pubic hair purple. Why not? No one’s gonna see it. ‘Cept me, and I could use a change.”

Not bad for a young, emerging talent with only a few publication credits

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THE SEEDY UNDERBELLY OF THE HIGH-FALUTIN’ OVERSOUL
By: Steve Henn
15 Poems / 15 Pages (30 Page Book) / $4
THE LAST REDCOAT
By: Oren Wagner
21 Poems / 15 Pages (30 Page Book) / $4
Platonic 3 Way Press
P.O. Box 844
Warsaw, IN 46581

Oren Wagner and Steve Henn are close friends. They are also co-editors along with well known Small Press poet, Don Winter of the new Platonic 3 Way Press. They are 28 and 30 years old respectively. They have been submitting work for about three years and have an average of eight publication credits between them. This is their first book of poetry. They divide the space between the covers; half the book entitled, The Last Redcoat is devoted to Oren Wager’s work and the other half entitled, The Seedy Underbelly of the High-falutin’ Oversoul is devoted to Steve Henn’s work.

I asked Henn about his background, “I don't know that I've started writing in earnest yet. I've been writing a lot more these past three years than ever before, but really I started in high school. There were several years of awful stuff, tho, and then after that several more years of mediocrity. For quite a bit of the last three years I've been thinking of myself as a prose writer who is too busy teaching and schooling to get at the novel I've got about 4/5ths of a complete rough draft of, but lately I've been thinking of myself more as a poet, intentionally trying to expand my abilities and come up with creative subject matter in verse. I don't buy that "find truth and beauty in the mundane" crap. I've always written to entertain, and primarily to entertain myself. Novel subject matter, taking risks with what I write about are what I find stimulating.”

Henn’s poems are direct, narrative, and clear. They are warm hearted and good natured. Here is an example of one of his poems entitled, “Church League Softball”: “Oren and I love softball but we don’t / believe in God, so we decided to collect / a team of atheists to join the church league. / We filed for entry, marking “other” / in the spot for affiliation. Our fake name / was The Church of One, as in one life, / one chance, no soul, nothing to pray / to or for but today and tomorrow until we’re dead. / The rumor spread that we were eastern mystics, / that our experience of Him bordered on the sexual. / Janice, our token woman, got a lot of attention / from opposing men. She’d wave her tight ass / back and forth in the batter’s box, and they / served ‘em up with a slight arc, aiming / for her sweet spot.”

Oren Wagner’s work in The Last Redcoat is equally well written, but has more edge and bite to it then does Henn’s. Wagner writes impressionistically. This may be a bi-product of his years as a musician where song lyrics by their nature are often not linear in structure. I asked Wagner when did he begin writing poetry in earnest? “I've been writing for about twelve years, I was 15 or 16 when I started, you know, sad teenage poetry kind of shit. I was about 21 when I started writing stuff that doesn't make me recoil in shame (retrospectively speaking.)” I asked about his education, “An honor roll student in the school of hard knocks. After high school I was in a couple of touring punk bands. I've lived in Detroit MI, Warsaw IN, Seattle WA, South Bend IN, North Manchester IN, Colorado Springs CO, Zionsville IN and now Indianapolis IN, six of those cities have been in the past eight years, so moving around has been very formative or educational...I spent a year in college in Colorado, and have spent the last three years at a university in Indianapolis. Since I can't go to school full time, I am on the eight year program.”

Here is an example of one of Wagner’s poems entitled, “icons of the virgin”: “icons of the virgin are painted in the etceteras on the wall / surface, texture, erosion. / you don’t know that I can hear assembly line / efforts in your voice. / midnight sky of Braille and Arabic numerals / counting, falling. dot dot dot dash, / immaculate Morse code for V,/not for victory or for varsity / or for virtue. /latitude lines on an uncreated earth / still have their degrees and intervene with longitude / baby born into a cartilage cage / a metaphor for the unspoken / benedictions for the perishing apostle / zodiac, monkey pox , increased rations / assembly line icons of the virgin / etcetera etcetera written on her face.”

This is a very fine set of poetry. Well crafted, clever, mature, visual, surprising – from the minds of two friends, editors and emerging poets.
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JUST ANOHTER ADOLESCENT BRAGGART
By: Mark Gaudet
28 Poems / 41 Pages / $6.43
Order by going to: www.lulu.com

Just Another Adolescent Braggart is Mark Gaudet’s first print poetry collection. He is 36 and started actively submitting work to small press publications about a year ago. He has a degree in fine art, but no formal training in writing. In his bio he notes his major influences to be Charles Bukowski and William Carlos Williams. His poems are word light and earth bound. I was curious about his use of light-up words such as fuck, sex, cigarettes, booze, blow job, vomit. He told me, “I try not to use a lot of symbolism; usually what you see is what you get. I like it simple, to the point. I want my poetry to stand up, grab a hold of someone and slap them across the face. I like it hard and with an edge, but I also like to mix in some humor.” He went on to tell me, “But my first love is Bukowski. He told it like it was. For some reason his words hold my attention. I'm not reading something and saying to myself what does that mean? Or trying to understand the hidden meaning behind him screwing some woman while watching cockroaches scattering across the floor.”

I asked Gaudet if he could determine a writer’s age by their writing style or themes. I wondered if there was such a thing as young poetry and old poetry. Here is what he told me, “Its hard sometimes; I don't try to make judgments on someone's age. Hell there are kids in High School who write wonderful poetry, and people who've been writing poetry for 40 years, and their stuff is just plain shit. At least that's my opinion. Poetry's a funny thing you could write something half assed in the bathroom stall, and someone can think it's the next Jack Kerouac.” Maybe so, but good or bad writing does not seem to be a function of age.

Here is an example of Gaudet’s writing a poem entitled, “Replacement”: “We met / I found another / cute, na├»ve, innocent // happy? // Let me peel / her face back / probing through / bone / tissue / bloody pulp // Are you hiding in her?” And here is another example, “Killing Degas”: “Paint / on my pallet // Pretty / yellows / cyan /burnt / sienna // Mash together / biting the brush / not knowing / waiting // Horses over steeple chase / pretty ballerinas glide / across / his paintings // Bourbon and pills / hues / of vomit / green / and yellow / spew / across my / canvas // Voluptuous / women / bathing / in a tub // Slit / wrists / grasp / the shower tiles // French / Impressionist / American / Depressionist “

Gaudet writes in a non-narrative, impressionistic style that is more difficult to master. Some of the poems work and some nearly do. His best work are those poems that don’t push so hard and where he backs off the adverbs and elevator words, allowing his curious world to unfold before us – just as it is. All in all, a solid first book of poetry.

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Charles P. Ries lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. His narrative poems, short stories, interviews and poetry reviews have appeared in over one hundred and twenty print and electronic publications. He has received three Pushcart Prize nominations for his writing and most recently read his poetry on National Public Radio’s Theme and Variations, a program that is broadcast over seventy NPR affiliates. He is the author of THE FATHERS WE FIND, a novel based on memory. Ries is also the author of five books of poetry — the most recent entitled, The Last Time which was released by The Moon Press in Tucson, Arizona. He is the poetry editor for Word Riot (www.wordriot.org) and on the board of the Woodland Pattern Bookstore in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Most recently he has been appointed to the Wisconsin Poet Laureate Commission. You may find additional samples of his work by going to: http://www.literarti.net/Ries/ .

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