Thursday, October 01, 2009

Don Winter's Last Book of Poetry?! A Review of Saturday Night Desperate by Todd Moore.

(Don Winter Center)

Don Winter told me this is his last book of poetry and it has been reviewed by small press icon Todd Moore, so I decided to publish this insightful review in addition to Irene Koronas'. Hope you enjoy, and I hope this isn't really Don Winter's last book!


Todd Moore

I remember getting hit once with a baseball bat right in the middle of the back and the force of that blow spun me around toward a girl who was laughing. Sometimes a book will have that same effect on me. Reading Tom McGrath’s LETTER TO AN IMAGINARY FRIEND was like that. It was years ago. I was sitting in a shot and beer joint, some back booth, eating a burger with the blood and grease pouring out on my plate, and the beer tasted good and cold and I read that first page of LETTER and was hooked on McGrath. For me, reading poetry is personal and visceral, up close, in your face, mano a mano, like a fist in the eye.

Don Winter’s poetry hits me like that. I didn’t know much about his work until I read NO WAY OUT BUT IN, Working Stiff Press, 2008. The format itself is nothing to speak of. Maybe twenty pages or so, eight and a half is by eleven, the print font typewriter graphics, the cover a color snapshot of I assume his mother and father sitting on a sofa with Winter in the middle. She has her head cushioned affectionately on his shoulder. The chapbook is side stapled and then duct taped over. Something about the unpretentious way it was put together made me like it immediately. I liked it because it was a kind of fuck you way of saying I’m a little beaten up but I am still standing. I reviewed that chapbook the same day I got it because I had to. There are some books and that just seem to reach over, grab you by the shirt front, and there is nothing you can do but read them.

The same thing happened to me when I grabbed SATURDAY NIGHT DESPERATE out of the mailbox. The second I ripped the envelope open I knew I had to read it. I not only knew I had to read it, but I also had to start writing about it even while I was reading because I know Don Winter’s poetry and it’s the kind of stuff I go for. The same thing happens whenever I read a new Gary Goude poem or a new Ben Smith poem or a new John Yamrus poem or a new Ron Androla poem or a new Mark Weber poem or a new Milner Place poem. What I know more than anything else is that this is going to be a poem that is essential, vital, real and when I come away from reading it, it will be like walking out of a really good movie that I hated to see come to an end.

SATURDAY NIGHT DESPERATE , Working Stiff Press, 2009, is a working man’s selected, gathering the best of Don Winter from 1999-2009. It’s not hardcover, it’s not even glossy paperback. Instead, this is folded and stapled and stark black and white, definitely nailgun noir, bar whiskey jagged.


Mornings we ripped
shingles. When air temp topped
body temp we got buzzed.
We sat and smoked.

“I’d get monkeys
to do your jobs
if I could teach them not to shit
on the roof,” boss yelled.

We laughed like struck
match sticks. Down in the street
sheets just hung there on the line
like movie screens.

Winter understands the down and out world of the working man. “In Niles, Michigan, the working class town where I grew up, you were educated (euphemism for ‘socially managed’) for docility: conformity to the rules, obedience to authority, and receptivity to rote learning.” From Press of the Real: Poetry of the Working Class. Author’s Introduction.

Dressing Burgers at Wanda’s Grill

During his 23 years here,
on each one
he curls ketchup
into a mouth,
places two pickles
for eyes, two lines
of mustard for eyebrows.
The onion bits,
he says,
are pimples.

We watch him
leave alone after
work, come in the same
time each morning,
take his break
by himself, always the same
station blaring.

We watch him
finish off
each face with a top hat, mash
the condiments together,
bury each one
in a thin, wax box.
All those little white caskets
on the greasy steel rack.

As far as the academic world is concerned, the low life world of work and sweat and angst and going without and living with those impossible power ball dreams and getting laid off and getting fucked up and going out from a heart attack, cancer, or stroke should have no room for poetry in it. After all, isn’t poetry the private reserve for the MFA elite? The university professors? What about the poetry of Charles Bukowski? What about the poetry of Kell Robertson? What about the poetry of Fred Voss? What about the poetry of John Yamrus? What about the poetry of Gary Goude? What about the poetry of Mark Weber? What about the poetry of John Macker? What about the poetry of Ron Androla? What about the poetry of Gerald Locklin? What about the poetry of Tony Moffeit? What about the poetry of Raindog Armstrong? I wouldn’t trade one line of any of their work for all the academic poetry written in the last thirty years.

Breaking Down

I bought that car for $50.

To open the door
you had to pound
just below the handle.

When you turned a corner
the dash lights flickered
like a busted marquee.

The rolling noise
that charmed Vera
was a can of Budweiser
under her seat.

Night we split up,
she held my erection
& looked out the window
like someone
with a hand on a doorknob
stopping to say one last thing
before goodbye.

On the inside of the back cover there are these words:

From 1999-2009 Don Winters’ poems appeared in most small press (and many academic press) journals. He is off to discover a new path.

I could be very wrong and totally off base, but my take here is this book is Don Winter’s path, past present and future and he would be betraying himself along with Tom McGrath and Charles Bukowski and Gary Goude and John Yamrus and everyone else who put his own blood on the line for the line if he strayed from it. In his introduction, Winter tells a story about McGrath dying in a single room wearing a black mitten on a hand that he could not keep warm after it had received surgery. In some larger more important way, once you start writing poetry you put on that black mitten and you can never take it off.

Todd Moore


  1. Anonymous2:12 PM

    In Texas, there's a guy named William Bryan Massey III, mostly self-published, who writes better Don Winter poems than Don Winter does. And I confess that I'm usually a little underwhelmed by Mr. Massey. I fail to see any real range, or greatness, in the work of either man. I've done the kind of shit jobs he's done, and lived through times and in places as bad. Sure, there can be poetry in those things, but I can't see that this man has the broader vision that one expects of a truly great poet.

  2. Anonymous4:53 PM

    While I think valuing poets is a somewhat subjective undertaking, I also think one clue to whether or not Don Winter is a great poet is that Fred Voss is a fan of Don's poems, as is Chiron Review and Small Press Review. I don't believe Don any longer writes, but I remember reading poems of great range and depth by him in such diverse places as Sycamore Review, Passages North, New York Quarterly and Nerve Cowboy. I also remember reading poets like Gary Goude, Mark Wisniewski, Linda McCarriston, and many other luminaries testify to his greatness. I'm no poet, but I'm a fan and avid reader of poetry, and I think Don Winter is one the truly great poets of the last ten years.

  3. Dan Sheridan1:46 PM

    I agree with commentor #2. My first encounter with Winter's poetry was "The Dream Home" in 5AM (long ago), and I found it a remarkable poem, as I think most of his poems are. However, I published some of Don's books, am hardly unbiased, so let me put forward a few accolades I've received, or read, about Don's poetry from important poets and publishers with the courage to put their names behind their comments:

    "Don Winter is one of best poets in Small Press"---Small Press Review

    "One of small press finest poets"---Chiron Review

    "Keep writing your great poems man. You are hitting the keys like a symphony by Wagner, Bach, Mozart. You are one of the few poets I can honestly say I take joy in reading."---Gary Goude – subject of New York Quarterly #60's "Craft Interview"

    "I thank the lit gods for Don Winter’s poems.”---Mark Wisniewski, award-winning author

    "I've admired his work for years---and so has my husband, poet Fred Voss."---Joan Jobe Smith, Founding Editor of Pearl and Bukowski Review.

    "Don Winter’s poems are memorable, moving, fresh and necessary.The combination of his ear for that voice, his eye for that life, his
    innate sense of music and the line, the heart wrenching lyric imagery and the rage that ought to fuel it all and does makes his poems sure things.”---Linda McCarriston, poet featured by Bill Moyer

    "The poems of Don Winter have the same realistic qualities I find in my favorite narrative writers, e.g. Hemmingway, Bukowski, Updike, Roth, and Haslami: recognizable locales, credible characters, sharp dialogue, terse descriptions, and a minimum of authorial intrusion. His collections hold the reader from start to finish. Don, thank you for all the good words you have graced the readers of your works with."---Gerald Locklin, small press icon.

    "Don Winter's work should be remembered as among the best poetry of the late 90s/early 2000s; he deserves recognition among the elites of his generation."---Steve Henn Author of the new poem collection Subvert the Paradigm

    "I have read the heavies and Don Winter matches up. It is a good thing to know and appreciate an American master during his time."---Troy Schoultz in Chiron Review book review and in correspondence

    "I will miss your work, and in your future I hope that you find the same peace and happiness in life--in whatever you do---as you brought into my world as an editor and writer and reader...and that I mean with all of my heart." Raymond Hammond, Editor, New York Quarterly

  4. Well, I'll say this: that Fred Voss, who is the greatest small press writer, and who deserves to be our U.S. Poet Laureate, is a fan of my work means more to me than whether or not there is a god/God.

  5. Anonymous5:31 PM

    Don was the finest writer in the small press for years.