Thursday, December 26, 2013

Flying Cats (actually swooping) New and Selected Poems By Dan Sklar

Flying Cats (actually swooping)
New and Selected Poems
By Dan Sklar
Ibbetson Street Press
ISBN: 978-1-304-45004-3
161 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly
In this underground world of spreading fungus, where Fusarium Solani reigns as overlord, Dan Sklar’s crudely drawn, undainty poems of reindeer people and curious animals survive and flourish and we are the better for it. He also etches, in these same chambers, a handful of prose pieces and one act plays shorn of the usual civilized accoutrements, but each with a point that can’t be missed. Past the Hall of Bulls, beyond the Nave of Hand Prints, next to the Hyena Apse, you’ll find the Chamber of Flying Cats. Here the primitive Sklar, using red ochre and carbon black, composes his original art of not-too-serious insights into the nature of human kind and cats—actually, swooping cats.

Sklar, donning his trademark faux bearskins with untucked tee shirt showing, attacks each poetic piece in this throwback bare-boned collection with Paleolithic verve. His inbred Neanderthal genes speak to our own inherited sensibilities and basic needs, our own troglodyte traits. Early-on in his book Flying Cats (actually swooping), the poet stakes out his primordial territory. The second poem in this collection Sklar calls To Be Reindeer People. He chants his way into this Rousseau-like vision. Here’s the heart of the poem,

…Why do you
have to achieve anything
why can’t you just live
and smoke a pipe or
something. When you
are a nomad you
cannot accumulate things.
When you are a nomad you
just can’t do it.
Maybe you read
a book but you have to give it
away or leave it somewhere.
Maybe one book you can carry.
Maybe you ride reindeer
and have sleds
pulled by reindeer.

Notice the phase “or something” in this selection’s third and fourth line. He is in essence arguing his unsophistication and the questionable import of his words. I’m not so sure I’m convinced. The term “holy fool” comes to mind.

Sklar lives and evolves in a futuristic, but natural world where men and animals, cats in particular, attain mystical powers and live in common happiness. Say what?? Okay this may not be our world but it is the world fashioned by this poet and his creative powers are prodigious. In the title poem Flying Cats (Actually Swooping) Sklar posits an outdoor universe of wonder where time slows down, presumably agrarian time. The poet says,

…This is the future
I am thinking of—flying cats in canoes
and  bicycles. Sometimes when
you’re riding your bike a flying cat
will land on your back, sit down
look around, knead your back a little,
then fly off. In the future the principal
means of transportation will be horses
and horse drawn things and bicycles
and walking and trolley cars
and slow trains, not too many motors
for the most part…

Sklar’s poem entitled Primitive is just that, both in technique and subject matter. The poet strips down the syntax and presents us with a triangular standoff of three rather common creatures: a squirrel, a cat, and a human. All seem to be collected around a mythical fire with the human especially entranced. The word repetition adds to its mythic quality. The fire itself gives the piece a strange depth. This is not simply an imagist poem, it strength comes from its aural qualities and its connections with other poems in its vicinity. The poet begins his piece this way,

Shows off

Very primal, very strange! But it does strike a number of interesting atavistic chords.

Keeping his eyes open to details, securing goods for his family, looking for opportunity, Sklar treks to the exotic Eastern climes  in the poem What Is This Poem About. The poet is in search of Thai food and that entails a drive to Ipswich. But hunter-gatherer that he is, a stop must first be made to Brooks Drugstore, where graph paper and notebooks must be secured. The elements oppose the poet’s mission and his communication system has been knocked out (broken car antenna). In the end he emerges from the meadows and the woods to provide for his presumably grateful kin. The poet begins by questioning his own importance,

I don’t know why this is poetry
and why I think it’s important.
I drove to Ipswich in the rain to pick up Thai food.
The evening was still light at 7:00. I went to
Brooks Drugstore first. It was still
raining. I drove into the wet parking lot.
I had on my green cap and navy blue overcoat,
Tee-shirt and sweater. I was 51.

Unpretentious utility has its place, even in poetry. In Sklar’s prose poem Galoshes, literature stretches through space and time as a continuum. He resents those, who would use truth-telling and art (as he believes it to be) to secure fame or elevate their own ambitions. The purity the poet seeks is, of course, unattainable, but appealing nevertheless. His repeated sentence “The world stops at the word galoshes” embraces everyday usefulness and straightforwardness and rejects the artsy-fartsy route. The poet rants,

…I have taken my spirit out of
The poetry business. I would trust a lying, cheating, dirty, crooked
businessman over an ambitious poet any day. The world stops at
the word galoshes…

Sklar’s one act play Jeff and Walt in New Orleans portrays Walt Whitman and his brother after they have helped create a viable newspaper in New Orleans, been let go, and are having second thoughts about their milquetoast interaction with the local slave trade. In the end the author reduces everything to a climatic punch in the nose. How barbaric. How satisfying.

The last piece in the collection is a poem entitled Going to The Opera. Ever the philistine Sklar reduces the experience of opera to cleanliness, attractive scents, argyle socks, and bare shoulders. The poet says in explanation,

…you must
take a shower before going
and put on clean clothes
and dress up very neatly.
It is good to be clean
With other clean people.
Some women wear perfume.
It smells good.

Sometimes the primitive experience can liberate the soul in elegant simplicity. Sklar’s work does this. You want to reread and revisit his utilitarian artistic visions over and over. Besides, they smell good.

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