Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Review of HIGH COUNTRY, chapbook by Arthur Winfield Knight, Presa:S:Press, Box 792, Rockford, Michigan 49341, www.presapress.com, 32 pages, cover art by Ronnie M. Lane, $6.00.
By Barbara Bialick
I’m so glad I have a copy of Mr. Knight’s HIGH COUNTRY. I can stash it away with my favorite poetry “refer to” books. You should grab one, too, and try to figure out how he could present such perfect, narrow poems, only 20 lines or more, story teller vignettes that keep his clear voice of the historian, artist and observer of Nevada and California always fitting that guy in the picture wearing a cowboy hat and a big, snide smile.
This chapbook is the author’s first collection of poetry in ten years. But just to pick it up and check the compliments on the back of the book and to stare at that mystical green cactus on the cover, it starts you out with positive feelings before even reading it.
He’s apparently an expert who’s published more than 3,000 poems, short stories, and film reviews that “chronicle life in the old and contemporary west” that have been translated into Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese and more. His bio claims “Knight’s poetry remains one of the most distinctive voices of his generation” in the small press. (He was born in 1937).
The book opens as he and his wife Kit have just moved from California to Nevada. How could you not want to read a poem called “THE WHOREHOUSES AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY.” He writes, “We’ve driven past them/for thirty years, but it’s different now./We moved from California to Nevada/two weeks ago. Everything’s different./Slot machines are everywhere: in grocery stores, gas stations, whorehouses, chocolate factories,/Laundromats and strip joints…/and the owner of Casino West/runs ten thousand head of cattle…”
One of my favorite poems is THE TUMBLEWEEDS. He took some of that rural Nevada plant and mailed it to an American West buff in England. The post office charged eleven fifty and stamped it “Fragile”. Two weeks later the English man said it was tumbling well in his back garden. The poem concludes: “it’s stamped all over FRAGILE,/but it’s Tough as Old Boots,/and has been bouncing across the desert/for Donkey’s Years./What’s wrong with those people/at the post office?”
Some the other poem titles include, MORGAN FREEMAN COMES TO SACRAMENTO, BIBLE THUMPERS, WYATT EARP, CROP DUSTERS, DUELING PIZZAS, and WEED HEIGHTS, NEVADA. The only problem is it’s just a little chapbook. On the other hand, that’s part of its magic. Read it fast and realize that now as even an easterner you sort of get something of the flavor of the American West from a western point of view