Thursday, July 28, 2011
(A Young Sam Cornish)
Dead Beats by Sam Cornish, Ibbetson Street Press, 2011. $14
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Review by Hugh Fox
Dead Beats is a vivid trip back into the world of the Beats. I mean you’re there, Cornish brings them back as alive as they’ve ever been, all the little personal details, here come William Burroughs, John Wieners, Robert Creeley, Margaret Lockwood,William Carlos Williams, Kerouac and Ginsberg….tons more. The little details are what really get to you: “the Poet looking for cigarette butts/in the gutters of Common//wealth Avenue is not a bum living alone on Joy/Street he’s John Wieners//his friends in poetry will speak well/of him after he’s dead at MIT the Blacksmith reading/reciting//but see him now and then/out of his fucking mind//he will be okay he’s dying his poems are collected/in a signed limited edition//that poets cannot afford.” (“Dead Respectability,” p.41).
I mean you’re there, all the wildness, the rule-breaking, the interior word/feeling wars surrounding you. Let’s get liberated, free, say what we want to say, feel what we want to feel, and screw the restrictions of the world around us. You want to get inside the wild sanity of the Beat world, this is the best place to begin. It’s the world Cornish grew up in and it totally and forever dominated his whole world-view: “These were the days of my young/America in the pages of City Lights//and the Evergreen Review/ Allen Ginsberg recalling the days/of his naked youth being policed by Time/ Magazine the lovers of J Edgar Hoover//America Sacco and Vanzetti/ the Scottsboro Boys rotting//in history Ginsberg lost/in his poems…” (“My Young America,” p.9).
And there’s another special touch here too, Cornish being black, seeing the white world through black visioning: “the jazz/man beats//his drum/like he whips//his women his/black face//purple with rage//my jazz
man/ with his nigger/face//wants to/marry//me my horn/player//jazz man/plays a sunny/day/something back//blows /his horn//like he/got/his thing/in me//his music/is he/jungle/in the city/bars/stompin’/his blues/into me.” (“My Man,” pp.14-15).
One of the most powerful books of poetry ever, ever written. In the Ginsberg-Kerouac mode, telling it as it is, but somehow, with ALL the academic writing-rules tossed away, you’re there, it’s not just writing but time-travelling back into Cornish’s reality that we can all identify with because we were all back there too, even if we never got so totally inside it as he did.
**** Hugh Fox is a founding editor of the Pushcart Prize.