Tuesday, October 06, 2009

An Adventure of Economy in Gringo Guadalupe, poems by Kevin Gallagher: Article by Michael T. Steffen

An Adventure of Economy in Gringo Guadalupe,
poems by Kevin Gallagher

article by Michael T. Steffen

A nifty, true to the term “pocket” book (from the French “livre de poche”), a 7”x 4” paperback distributed by Ibbetson Street Press, Kevin Gallagher’s Gringo Guadalupe is handily organized into two sections that immediately solicit comparison.

The first section, consisting of eleven formal poems, seven sonnets and four villanelles, evokes the tradition of the sonnet sequence that recounts a narrative. Gallagher’s story in this first sequence of poems combines contemporary secular elements with traditional mystical ones. It is of a North American who moves his family (his wife…daughter…) to Mexico, to Guadalupe, to take a job in a factory. Set in lyrics, the narrative is cursory, suggestive, leaving us to make connections and put the story together. From the first line of the book we gather the narrator’s reasons for pulling up and moving across the border have somewhat to do with our current economic

Everything is too expensive to be poor.

We have heard of those with five-digit bank accounts who go to South America to live like millionaires, though it’s not easy from Gallagher’s narrative to guess that we are just so well off in Gringo Guadalupe. One curiously infers a geographical fiction here telling of the hard times we face, cutting back to more modest standards, such as, ironically, the

…one town where the employees live.
It has a school where teachers speak English.
The shopping mall is fully equipped with
TV’s and burgers—whatever you wish.
(“At the Company Orientation…, p. 6)

Yet the geographical setting also proves pivotal to the unexpected turn of events in the narrative which deepens Gallagher’s boldly spiritual reckoning, on the bridge of public language in poetry, from a deeply private experience and revelation. We won’t give the details of the story away. I’ll venture to say I appreciated Kevin Gallagher’s idea that imaginative possibilities have a different intensity and grandeur when set among a people with different beliefs and values than ours.
Back to the comparison between the two sections of the book: If the opening sequence lends itself to our reading comprehension through clarity of language and buoyancy of temperament, the second part, “Frescoes,” consisting of twenty untitled sections, reads as shorthand, symbolic-imagistic, around a less determined, more cryptic challenge to the poet’s meditation.
These “enigmas” share with the poems from Gallagher’s first section a knack for juxtaposing older and newer language and imagery, as Anastasios Kozaitis has pointed out, referring to an idea from Pound and Eliot, of shaping poetic language “in perpetual pursuit to make it new.”
Gringo Guadalupe offers the reader a unique clarity of contrasts in ways to approach sustained poetic forms, while both sections remain cordial in their selective concision. We do not get the sense that Gallagher is rambling on and on.
True to its theme, economical stylistically as well as physically, this little book, aptly designed by Steven Glines at ISCS Press, in our age of pocket communication gadgets, makes for a handy companion to take along with us and read conveniently here and there wherever we have a few minutes to direct our attention to all that is urgent and persistent with us.

Gringo Guadalupe by Kevin Gallagher
is available for $10
from Ibbetson Street Press
25 School Street
Somerville MA 02143

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