Saturday, May 26, 2012
Three Poems By Ross Runfola
By Ross Runfola
University of Buffalo
The State University of New York
The Poetry Collection
Of the University Libraries
300 copies printed
Review by Dennis Daly
Like a solitary glass of draft beer, poetry needs attention. In this elegant looking but gritty chapbook of three relatively short poems by Ross Runfola, each piece gets the attention it deserves. Herein the poet speaks to games and the violence they induce, flat beer, and crotch-sniffing dogs. Let us deal with flat beer first.
Some of you may indeed marvel at how, in a twenty-two ounce glass of blueberry beer, the blueberries seem motivated to rise and fall of their own accord, their propulsion systems and their quantum methodologies among life’s greater mysteries. Others, including myself, are purists and eschew blueberry beer. We prefer our beer without fruit or other zesty ingredients cruelly added during spring’s onset or in the midst of a heartless summer. An appropriate and expected one inch (read two fingers) head in either a zany lager or stern ale usually enhances the inspiration value so coolly and happily delivered. But even a flat beer, that is, one criminally under carbonated, can for our purposes lead to a prayerful and profound meditational experience.
Runfola in his poem, Magic Glass, understands these principals. He describes a working class type of guy, an understated average fellow, and gent whose body has turned the final corner and now revolts against years of youthful, unthinking pleasures and indiscretions. He describes him this way,
A work shirt with mud on the left sleeve
Glasses with huge frames that were never fashionable
Yellow fingers from smoking too many cigarettes
A pair of well worn black Harley Davidson boots
A raspy smoker’s cough…
Yes, this man hacking away, sitting next to the poet’s persona at the bar, seeks metaphysical meaning. The poet explains,
Staring in his beer glass for almost an hour
As if it is a crystal ball
Is he pondering the existence of God
Bemoaning the end of a relationship
Being laid off from a job
Thinking about his son in Iraq
Is he pissed off because his beer is flat.
Of course the beer glass can function as a crystal ball. Every serious drinker knows this and on occasion has received hints of future calamities or unexpected successes.
Next, let us consider the function of games as suggested by Runfola in his poem, Bored Games. The poet watches gamers closely with an eye on filling the vacuum of his life. This is a problem because to many people the game is not just a game, it is life. The old have time on their hands and so do those who want to be seen and, of course, the young. The poem begins this way,
I watch old men playing chess in the park
carefully measuring every move
The blonde in the tight fitting sweater
struggling with the New York Times crossword puzzle
Little children crying out in frustration
trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle…
The poet’s persona learns a valuable lesson when, all in good fun, he mixes with the serious gamers,
When I won at chess for the first time
The guy in the park who talked to himself
Knocked the chess pieces down and broke my jaw
When I played pool at Flynn’s Golden Dollar Café
The pimp with the red felt hat pulled a gun on me.
Broken people or people outside the law are playing for different stakes than their bored counterparts and not understanding this can lead all to disaster.
Finally, in Runfola’s poem entitled The Dog Walkers Club a crotch sniffing canine named Zelig changes the poet’s world forever. This poetry revolts against the humdrum and the routine and those who reinforce that false existence on us. The poet describes the dog walkers thusly,
When I walk Zelig every morning
Men with bedroom slippers
And football sweatshirts
All give me the same secret greeting
In the winter—“Cold enough for you.”
In the summer—“Hot enough for you.”
When it rains—“Looks like it’s going to be a wet one.”
Life’s triteness is surely painful and something that most of us find inescapable. We are slowly drawn into the dog walkers club losing spontaneity and creativity along the way. But then poet’s dog noses into instinctual, precipitant action,
…Zelig sniffs a dog walker’s crotch
Then sniff and a hump combination to the bearded one
“Don’t be afraid, you remind Zelig of his father,” I shout
As he makes a hasty retreat…
In the end both poet and dog are masters of their own destinies. I like happy endings.