Monday, October 23, 2006

The Confidence Man. Poems by Michael R. Brown. (Ragged Sky Press 270 Griggs Drive Princeton, NJ 08540) $10.

Michael Brown, the resident graybeard of the Boston-area poetry scene has a new collection of verse out: “The Confidence Man.” Brown’s poetry is an interesting mix of jaded wit, irony, and world-weariness. The last poem in the collection: “Jon Shea and Teaching,” made me pause because Shea was the founder of the “South Boston Literary Review,”, and the short-lived “Journal of Modern Literature.” Shea died a couple of years ago at the still fairly tender age of 48. Brown resurrects Shea so he can reflect on his own years of teaching, which he reveals is even more important to him than his writing. In the answer to a question from the always offbeat and colorful Shea, Brown riffs on the classroom, and takes a poetic poke at some posturing colleagues:

“It’s like I told him when he asked earlier about teaching and
writing. If I had to give up one, I’d give up writing. Just like
today, I got some student evaluations for my classes last
semester. They have about thirty questions like,” Is prepared for class” and they score one to five. In each set I get one four and all the rest are all fives.

I thank my supervisor for taking all the bad ones before
he gives them to me, and he thinks he’s a good teacher and I’m a wise-ass. I go to the teacher’s lounge and say it’s time to write
my thank-you note to the registrar. Some of those teachers
have been there 25 years and never get good students. I get
them all the time. (85)’

In an excellent poem “BJ’s Poetry Store” Brown takes a swing at the use of prepackaged or clich├ęd language in the poetry world. He imagines a discount store, where the merchandise is second hand language for bards:

“ …But this BJ shit has me worried.
Big white sheets of paper announce in blue block letters—
rural American figures of speech/
$5 a dozen/6 dozen minimum,
tough urban images/ 2 for a dollar/ boxes of 10.
Inside, the aisles are littered with case-sized lots
of canned poetry pieces; frozen iambic pentameters
are stacked high in Styrofoam trays;
and anyone can afford them.
Soon open readings will be endless,
and the only real poetry will be the conversations
of those who won’t buy language,
and say nothing while everyone else reads.” (200

Brown’s range is wide and he takes in everything from the sculptor Alexander Calder, to the image of the actor Johnny Weissmuller (“Tarzan”) at the pool at a very pedestrian Motel 6.
Brown offers a thoughtful and engaging read. Recommended.

Doug Holder/Ibbetson Update/Somerville, Mass. /Oct. 2006

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