Friday, October 19, 2012

Drive By: Shards & Poems By John Bennett

Drive By
Shards & Poems
By John Bennett
Lummox Press
San Pedro, CA
ISBN: 978-1-929878-09-3
139 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

John Bennett’s persona reels through this tormented book of poems and prose pieces with an anarchist’s witty spontaneity and an almost saintly intensity. The outside world seems to draw Bennett in to its pathetic havoc and uncaring cruelty leaving him questioning, tearless, and above all observant to a fault. He would agree with Thomas Hobbes’ sentiment that the life of man {is} solitary, poor, brutish, and short.

At first I hated it that Bennett calls his prose pieces shards. The word “shards” connotes for me the artsy-fartsy oh-so-precious world of the elite, the special people. But clearly Bennett’s world and writing angles away from anything that even resembles the elite as I understand them. His shards are not pieces of ancient pottery decked out on a fancy well-appointed museum shelf. They are instead broken smudged pieces of a mirror, scattered over the bloody floor of a crime scene. Some of the jagged slivers rage up at you. Others blind you with awe. Still others combine earthy grittiness with inexplicable logic.

If Bennett does seek connections with a type of illuminati, he has chosen well.  For Bennett it is the sense of wonder which separates a scattered band of initiates from the rest of humanity. In this collection’s very first poem, an oddly surreal piece, entitled A Rare Moment in Warfare Bennett shows the power of wonder. The poem begins this way,

The chieftain came
riding out of
the trees &
across the
field in Germania,
bareback on a

During this moment of awe and wonder the appreciative Roman general ordered his archers to hold their fire. It reminds me of the Christmas day truce during the World War I when soldiers came out of their murderous trenches and briefly shared their food and company.

The poem Substitute is certainly one of the highlights of this book. The writer describes his father’s step father in harsh terms, but with understanding insight. The uneducated Irish pipefitter who uses his belt to discipline his six step children comes across as a good man trying to do what is right as he understands it. The pathos in the last stanza between father and grandfather might inspire a religious person to wonder in admiration on the sometimes amazing grace of God or Whoever. Here it is:

The last
thing to die
was a
question in
his eyes
answered by
my father’s
tears his
great head
descending to

Another piece which deals with a people marked by grace or wonder is a shard called Original Sin. Bennett posits that we are all born with wonder but then something happens, perhaps something traumatic. Here’s the first paragraph:

It’s as if we’re born angels, and those who came before us put a pillow over our faces after they’ve tucked us into bed and hold it there until our tiny feet stop kicking. When they lift the pillow again we’re one of them, our eyes vacant. Bennett goes on to explain that some of us pretend to have died before our soul leaves and thereby we survive with our wonder left intact. Those others—the vacant-eyed ones—plod through the world in a state of numbness.

In the poem Crazy John Bennett, the poet, seeking attention, approval, or perhaps just wanting to break up the monotony of life among the vacant-eyes-ones, acts out to the cheers of all as only a barfly can. His audience awaits the spontaneous, the outrageous. He describes his entrance into his chosen tavern,

I would
walk into the
Corner Stone Tavern
on a
quiet afternoon &
a cheer would
go up from
the regulars.
They knew that
before the
night was over
I’d be
biting the
heads off

Fear and Understanding is a short poem that confronts the underside of spontaneity as exemplified in art. A woman complains that she doesn’t understand what Bennett writes and it scares her. The poet’s persona replies,

You understand it
more than you
if it
scares you
I said,
& then she looked
really scared.

A very scary shard Bennett calls He Tried To Consider His Options. In it the writer’s persona details the crackup of his marriage. After giving up a music career, raising four children, and playing by the rules of society the writer’s wife turns on him for his admittedly excessive drinking habits.  His answer, reasonably enough, is that he never missed a day of work. No dice. By this time his wife has joined Al-Anon and has substituted her husband for her support group. The protagonist now loses his way. Jim Beam offers solace and numbness. He accepts. Thus he temporarily joins the ranks of the vacant-eyed-ones.

A follow up shard entitled Economic Crises finishes the story. The writer says,

This is more than a roll. Life begins turning on a dime. Something inside floats to the surface like seaweed.

He hits bottom, recovers, and faces the wondrous world unconfused.

In Drive By, his title piece, Bennett describes writing what he calls a super shard infused with other inspired writers and pouring it “into a narrow-necked bottle like gasoline and then stuffed with a rag…and tossed through the first window I drive by.” His rage against the normality of art is, of course, both violent and well-placed.

Keep a watchful and wary eye on this guy Bennett and his well-constructed Molotov cocktails full of poetry and inspired prose.

1 comment:

  1. Scary for sure, the persona of Bennett, but a fine, lyrical sense of sound and meter in the short-lined pieces sampled here. Dynamite review!