Thursday, July 17, 2008

Reviews of Don Winter's No Way Out But In/ Soul Noir by Mike Kriesel

( Mike Kriesel)

(Don Winter)

No Way Out But In, Don Winter, 2008, 25p. Working Stiff Press, P.O. Box 1274, Niles, Michigan 49120, $10,

Todd Moore

Some books appear like comets. They get the newspaper spread, the National Public Radio talk show buzz. It’s red carpet all the way, the Billy Collins treatment on Garrison Keillor, the Barnes and Noble book signings. Some books make less auspicious appearances, like a grenade with the pin pulled rolling out on the sidewalk or a Molotov cocktail with the fuse lit, all ready to throw. These are the kinds of books I like because they are all about content and have no hint of glitz or hype whatsoever.

Don Winter’s No Way Out But In is this kind of book. Published by Working Stiff Press and selling for ten bucks, this book is a steal. This book contains some of the best poetry I’ve seen in a while. These poems remind me of the best work of Phillip Levine. And, here’s another guess. Maybe Winter knows the work of Raymond Carver as well.

One of the blurbs on the back of No Way Out mentions Hemingway and Bukowski, and while these writers are almost everyone’s influences, I think Winter’s poetry has an originality and power that is uniquely his own. As Gary Goude states in his masterly introduction, Don Winter is a working class poet, whose poetry comes out of the Midwest rust belt. Detroit, working class bars and diners, factories, the street wise, and the street poor. Some of these poems have layers of angst so thick you need a broken bottle to cut into and then through them.

2 a.m. The moon rises

above Birmingham Steel.

At 20th and Tuscaloosa

men keep warm by a fire

made from fence posts

and garage doors….

(from “Unions”)

Winter’s poetry takes place in a visceral world where French fries and broken glass are frozen to the pavement, where “faces float/ like torn pages/ across the diner windows.” The best thing about Don Winter’s poetry is that there is no whining. Instead what you find is a kind of tough guy stoicism. The poet narrator is going through a bad divorce. His world is sliding sideways away from him but somehow he manages to keep going, even though that going is taking him nowhere:

Two hundred for the night, two bones

from her dealer later, we jumped

into a Checker cab.

Back in my room,

the dope dropped my head

like a tulip.

She cleaned me out.

(from “Lonesome Town”)

There are resonances in Winter’s poetry which echo and remind me of something out of Raymond Chandler’s Red Wind, Charles Bukowski’s Burning in Water, Drowning in Flame, Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, or maybe something out of one of my books. Maybe Point Blank or Burn Like a Shadow. In my opinion, Don Winter’s poetry has all the right stuff. It’s hard, it’s edgy, it makes no excuses, and it knows where it lives. The next best thing to breaking out of a dead end life is to live in it with enormous honesty and intensity.

The note at the end of “Late Shift Waitress at Wanda’s Grill” reads “this found poem cost me blood.” What Winter seems to have learned is that all poems cost you blood. Blood mixed with nightmare chills and fever dreams.

No Way Out But In, Don Winter, Working Stiff Press, P.O. Box 1274, Niles, Michigan 49120, $10,

Soul Noir, Michael Kriesel, Platonic 3Way Press, P.O. Box 184, Warsaw, Indiana, 46581, $5,

By Troy Schoultz

Don Winter and Michael Kriesel are not only two of the most generous poets I’ve come across as far as offering advice and encouragement, but I hungrily take in any new poetic statements they offer up, be it a collection or the stray poem in any of the more quality literary mags on the market. Both gentlemen have new chapbooks out, and we the readers reap the benefits.

No Way Out But In reads like a continuation of Winters’ previous chapbooks, Things About To Disappear and On The Line. That is no disparagement. His latest comes across as the third part of a trilogy. If anything, these poems take the urgency and desperation up a few notches. These are poems of volatile hell-raising youth (“Raw”), stabbing loneliness and doubt (“Do You Think We Should”), and the casualties of capitalism and an American dream, gone haywire (“Going On” and “Unions”).

These are poems in which Winter offers up heaping helpings of a vision set in the tepid, bleaker shade of the stars and stripes that shows our home country is not always the land of milk and honey, but also too often a Darwinian boxing ring where dreams are in danger of falling like mirrors to pavement.

Unlike other poets working with the same subject matter, Winter does not come across as annoyingly self-righteous, preachy, or too “born to lose” to hold relevance. If anything, there is a pugnacious stoicism, toughness and endurance. Many poets chronicling these darker themes of realism made their work seem simplistic and effortless (the big two, Carver and Bukowski, come to mind), but the wonder of Winter is that his lines and images unfurl like flags saturated in colors that make the reader give pause with the realization of being in the presence of a serious artist.

Consider these closing lines from “The Hamtramck Hotel”: “And you sleep between the station breaks/ and a rolling curtain of freight cars block out the river. / And the moon climbs/ as the stars drip steadily into the streets.”

Michael Kriesel doesn’t so much jot down poems as offer up landscapes. His latest chapbook, Soul Noir, takes the reader on visits both interactive and internal. From the opening poem, we huddle up in a small tavern under the glow of a neon beer sign and listen to a story of a UFO buzzing above haystacks. Whether or not Kriesel planned it, he has managed to create an authentic Wisconsin Poetry: conversational, to the point, anchored in the flavors of region, nostalgic, proud, melancholy, seeped in ritual, dream-like and authentic all in the same dance.

Kriesel’s world is a heady mix of rural roadside taverns, cemeteries, farmland and distant urban mental pictures. In fact, reading many of Kriesel’s poems is akin to running across old Polaroid snapshots in a thrift store, overripe with color, an eye fastened on to a past with all senses plugged into the here and now. Kriesel’s imagery is lucid and sensory. In “Bakelite Victrola Horn” he describes an early record player apparatus as “Yellow morning glory, clear and cloudy/ as orange marmalade, stem a metal comma, / black.” The sense of ritual runs deep in “Limbo” where the poet replaces the accidentally destroyed grave marker of an infant with a poem, “Let this be that baby’s marker. Let/ this let me move on.”

Don Winter and Michael Kriesel both accomplish a necessary and forgotten function with their poetry—the nourishment and healing of the human soul. It is an important component of the craft that MFA workshop participants would do well to acquaint themselves with.

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