Friday, August 08, 2008

Review of the Ed Galing Propaganda Press Series by Pam Rosenblatt

(Ed Galing)

Diner (Propaganda Press, Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge, MA 02139)

By Ed Galing

Bargain Basement and other selected poems (Propaganda Press, Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge, MA 02139)

By Ed Galing

Out On A Limb (Propaganda Press, Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge, MA 02139)

By Ed Galing

Shadows on the Wall (Propaganda Press, Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge, MA 02139)

By Ed Galing

Chasing The World never catching up (Propaganda Press, Alternating Current, P.O. Box 398058, Cambridge, MA 02139)

By Ed Galing

Five of Ed Galing chapbooks have been reprinted by Propaganda Press in 2008: Diner (Peerless Press, 1999), Bargain Basement (Peerless Press, 2001), Out On A Limb (Peerless Press, 2002), and Shadows on the Wall (Peerless Press, 2006) and Chasing The World never catching up (Propaganda Press, 2008).

In each of these chapbooks, Ed Galing reveals poetry that is down-to-earth, concrete, and filled with wit. The typical reader probably thinks he can create poems just as wonderful as Galing writes. But, most likely, the reader turned poet is wrong. Galing’s poetry isn’t easy to recreate. Galing makes everything he writes look easy. Even the designs of his five chapbooks are plain and simple: 8 ½” x 11” standard white paper with a muted colored covers folded in half and held together with two regular sized staples along with no tables of contents pages or page numbers. Even the chapbooks’ titles are down to earth. Each title is developed from a poem within each of the chapbook, except for Chasing The World never catching up, a collection of poems first published by Spare Change. The titles’ simplicity make the reader wonder why Galing has chosen these particular titles, these particular poems. While Chasing The World never catching up, is a more complicated title to go with a more difficult read, Shadows on the Wall really has some controversial, difficult poems. Yet, Galing is an ordinary, no-show-off type of person. What you read is what you get. Or is it?

In life, Ed Galing is not your everyday type of guy writer, though he writes about life’s everyday happenings and progressions. He is a renowned 91 year old poet who was Poet Laureate of Hatboro, Pennsylvania in 1978; was nominated for the Pushcart Prize twice; has written over 23 books; published his works in over 400 magazines including RATTLE, POESY, MAIN STREET, QUERCUS, and IBBETSON STREET. He loves to play the harmonica and enjoys dining out, especially at diners. He was married for over sixty years, and has two sons, two grandchildren, and a great-grandchild.

In the chapbooks, Galing discusses things like diners, diner employees and customers who frequent diners, Pennsylvania, poverty, homelessness, home, mental illness, the Jewish holocaust, Jewish lifestyles and customs, old age and it’s implications, the ‘simple’ life, music and musicians and burlesque, dancing, the Twin Towers bombing, and family.

A lot of different themes run throughout Galing’s chapbooks, but the one we will write about today is Galing’s “home”, as in where home is, and how he keeps finding home in the various places he frequents. Many of the poems seem to be autobiographical.

In Diner, Galing writes about “diners, and those who work them”, the “restrooms”, the “counter work”, the “cashier”, “customer blues”, and a “diner”. After reading these poems, the reader gets the sense that diners are a friendly, surrogate family world to the speaker. Galing mentions the word “home” in “diner”, which is the title poem of this chapbook, and the reader understands that the diner is a place where the speaker feels comfortable enough to call “home”, a place where he has laid down roots, in a sense.


it’s only a diner.

i eat there a lot.

people are nice here…


waitresses smile

and make you feel

at home…

it’s only a diner…

yeah… but it’s more than


it’s the place where

i feel like i’m with a family

feel less lonely

feel happier

knowing that other people

eating in their own little


feel the same way too…

it’s only a diner…

but the men and women who

work here spend almost all their


doing a hard day’s work and night’s work

and some of them call it

home, too…

just the way i do…

it’s only a diner…

it’s only a diner…

Through simple description, sentence structure, word usage, and repetition, Galing has conveyed his philosophy that home isn’t necessarily found in a square building structure with four walls, windows, a front door, a doorbell, and green lawn in the suburbs, but it is simply where you feel like you fit in, as Galing writes, “it’s the place where/i feel like i’m with a family/feel less lonely/feel happier/knowing that other people/eating in their own little/booths/feel the same way too…”

Galing’s chapbook, Bargain Basement, deals a lot with “home” and where home is, as can be viewed in the first poem, which is once again the chapbooks title poem, “Bargain Basement”:

bargain basement

one of the best things

about Horn and Hardarts

was the way they

treated me;

like a gentleman,

even when i was down

and out, not

a nickel in my pocket…

i could always get a cup

of hot water,

and help myself

to the ketchup…

made the best tomato soup in town…

and even the napkins

were free.

In “bargain basement”, again, Galing has journeyed outside the traditional view that

a real house is what a person should call home. Here Galing describes a restaurant, which is in a “bargain basement”, to be like “home” to the speaker who is probably homeless and receives “a cup/of hot water”, “ketchup”, “the best tomato soup in town” free of charge. The speaker says, “Horn and Hardarts/…treated me:/like a gentleman,” Such a warm and friendly environment makes the speaker, who may be Galing himself, feel at “home”.

Galing actually writes about a disruption in his family home life in the poem, “farewell to paradise”, also found in Bargain Basement:

farewell to paradise

the day my father

left and didn’t

come back

i was sixteen

i remember

walking into

a room as quiet

as a tomb,

my mother sober

faced standing near

the mantle

told me she had

news for me,

and when she told me,

i listened but

felt like dying,

and inside my heart

drummed a death song

and i watched my

mother dying too,

and i wanted to

take her in my arms

and tell her that

everything would still

be all right,

but i didn’t do it…

instead i walked out the door,

went across the street

to the small park

and it was cold and

i sat down on a bench

and i cried my

fucking eyes out

In a progressively sad and then suddenly angry tone, Galing writes about a very personal experience, an experience that had a traumatic affect on him. He was so distraught that he “…sat down on a bench/and (he) cried (his)//fucking eyes out” His once perfect family structure had broken. In “farewell to paradise”, Galing’s speaker says goodbye to the home life he once knew.

Through lower case the entire poem, including the first person, “i”, Galing has gently eased the reader into his life, though the ending line, “fucking eyes out” reveals

the speaker is not happy. Galing tells the reader things as they are. Simply put. No jargon attached. And it’s a relief for the reader to understand concretely where the poet is coming from.

Galing reveals more about his early home years in “GOOD DAYS AND BAD”:


we had our good days

and our

bad days

just like

anyone else…

people think when

you live in

south philly

you’re bound to

be different

cause maybe you

don’t have a

lot of money

and you live in

a row house

in a small


and sometimes

the garbage

and rubbish

is all mixed up

and scattered


and the cars get

snowed in so

deep in the


sometimes you’re

wishing you were a

million miles away…

but hey,

when you live in

south philly

you’re special

Obviously, Galing’s speaker identifies “south philly” with the place where Galing himself lived, the place where “we had our good days/and our/bad days”. Galing seems to write autobiographically about his poverty as a child living in South Philadelphia, as when the speaker explains, “cause maybe you/don’t have a/lot of money/and you live in/a row house/in a small/street/and sometimes/the garbage/and rubbish/is all mixed up/and scattered/everywhere”.

The speaker has been subjected to South Philly’s poverty, which isn’t such a pleasant memory, but Galing ends the poem on a positive note, writing that “when you live in/south philly/you’re special”. The speaker may have lived in the impoverished city of South Philly, but he knew it was his home, the place where he had roots.

In Galing’s “FAREWELL, SOUTH PHILLY”, the speaker again autobiographically talks about his mother. The whole poem is about “home” and identity, and about how

….These are the real south Philadelphians…

my mother was one of those.

long after I had left the old neighborhood

to get married

she remained behind

living poor in the third floor front apartment

where I had left her

taking care of the outside marble steps,

sweeping the street;

always cheerful and happy,

hardly any money, being on welfare.

she loved her surroundings at fourth and


and always looked out the third floor window

waiting for my return visit…

Galing writes how the speaker’s mother has found “home”, especially revealed

when he describes her “taking care of the outside marble steps,/sweeping the street,/

always cheerful and happy, hardly any money, being on welfare./she loved her surroundings at fourth and Tasker,…” She had found permanence, while Galing’s speaker has left this solid place for somewhere else. The speaker returns to the building site after a long time, long after his mother’s death. The speaker admits, “And I never cried so long, or so hard, in all my life.” The speaker has closure on the place where he was raised, where his mother was “at the window where my mother used to wave to me so many times/when I returned to see her…/I could swear that I saw her face looking down/at me, now, and waving,/and suddenly I smiled and waved back,/and whispered, goodbye, Mom…” Again, Galing has revealed a sense of “home” in Bargain Basement. Although his mother has died, the speaker still has a sense of belonging to a place which holds many memories for him.

Galing writes about “home” quite often in the five chapbooks mentioned in this review. But the strongest sense of “home” and permanence that Galing conveys is in “Because You Asked” in Chasing The World never catching up when writing about his relationship with his wife:

Because You Asked

For my wife, R.I.P.

are we dead?

she asks me

no, i say

we are still


but we are

old, she says,

we have to die

some day, i tell

her gently,

not yet…

but when you’re

old you die

my wife says,

don’t you know that?

we all die, i agree,

but even the very young


the rich die,

the poor die,

the homeless die,

the soldiers die, too;

unless an accident happens

when we will die,

let’s not rush it,

it will come soon enough…

do we live here?

she ask again, as

if she forgot we have

lived in our home for

fifty years,

of course we live here,

i reassure her softly,

you and me… we live here,

where are our children?

she wants to know

they have long gone away,

i reply,

it’s just you and me.

we hug each other

eighty-eight isn’t


neither is alzheimers.

Galing has composed a wonderful poem about his wife and his kind, and gentle caring for one another. The poem flows from line to line, enjambment after enjambment. And, once again, the concept of “home” is discussed, this time Galing uses the words, “our home”, to show that the speaker, Ed Galing, knows what a strength there is in having a real home, family, and wife, as read when he writes, “do we live here?/she asks again, as/if she forgot we have/lived in our home for fifty years/of course we live here, i reassure her softly,/you and me…we live here,…”

Galing has written about the different stages and kinds of “homes” he as speaker

has encountered throughout his life, ranging from diners to bargain basements to south philly to the home his mother and he lived in during his early years to the home he and his wife raised their family in.

Diner, Bargain Basement , Out On A Limb, and Shadows on the Wall , and Chasing The World never catching up all poetically describe Galing’s journey to find “home” whenever and wherever he can.

These short and sweet chapbooks are excellent reads for people who want a down-to-earth, gentle, often humorous, and sometimes eye-opening as well as mind-opening, reading experience.

Hopefully, these chapbooks will make the permanent move to a shelf in your bookcase.

Pam Rosenblatt/ Ibbetson Update


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