Sunday, November 16, 2008

Don Winter Reviews "The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel" by Doug Holder

( This Review appears in the current issue of "Fight These Bastards" literary magazine founded by Don Winter)

THE MAN IN THE BOOTH IN THE MIDTOWN TUNNEL. By Doug Holder. 2008. 63 pages. $13 Cervena Barva Press. POBOX 440357 W. Somerville, Mass. 02144-3222

Reviewed by Don Winter

Rather than puzzle poems the reader must pick to find meaning, Doug Holder presents crystal portraits filled with small details that resonate more and more with repeated readings:

Postal Worker

The supervisor
Counts the seconds
As you wipe
The Crumbs from your
Face and return
To your post.

Your hands
Callused, pedestrian
You feed
A rapid
Stream of letters
To a ravenous federal machine.

Your eyes dimmed
For years
From the sea of manila
The bland white face
Of the mail
Faces scarred
With zips.

You feel
Ready to
Be returned to
Your sender.

Holder often aligns himself with those emblematic and beneath notice, voicing experience as a tollbooth attendant, a heroin addict, and a psychiatric patient. And often the poetry is the response to the desolation and the ominous surroundings that engulf characters. When characters aren’t anticipating some form of anxiety (“You felt/It press/Again/In your/Stomach”), they are displaced, or home retreats. “She could never run that way again,” a voice admits in “For Sarah,” and in “The Family Portrait” we are told, “Nothing will last.”

But while this is book is about loss and anguish and darkness, it is also about hope:
“A daily ritual
Of decrepit defiance
Walking the ground
That will own them.”

(Cambridge, Mass: Two Old Women,” p.26)

What may in fact be best about this book is the way the poetry oscillates between the chaotic and the organized, the terrifying and the peaceful. Holder’s is a voice both comfortable and uncomfortable with itself, a voice that allows both the catastrophic and beautiful to co-exist harmoniously. As the speaker in “The Last Hotdog,” suggests, bad things are happening, with worse on the way, but we can find small moments of (mitigated) joy even where hope is no longer possible:

She brought it
To his sick bed,
He bit through
The red casing
The familiar orgasm of juice
Hitting the roof
Of his mouth
In some facsimile
Of his youth.

Holder takes the grit of everyday life and transforms it into elegant, generous and personal poems, as easy to read as a pop novel, as fulfilling as a hearty meal. “The Man in the Booth in the Midtown Tunnel,” is the type of book that might bridge the aesthetic gap between popular culture, which often does not acknowledge the existence of the fine arts, and the usually snobbish intelligentsia, which rarely acknowledges the existence of popular culture.

----Don Winter’s work has appeared in the: New York Quarterly, Southern Poetry Review, 5 AM, Passages North, Slipstream, Portland Review, Chiron Review, Sycamore Review, Pearl, and close to 500 other journals in the U.S., Canada, England, Australia, Switzerland, Scotland and Ireland. His work has been nominated for twelve Pushcarts. His first collection, Things About to Disappear, is the best seller at Bone World Publishing and in New York Quarterly’s on-line store. He is co-founder of Platonic 3Way Press, home of Fight These Bastards

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