Thursday, September 25, 2014

Plots We Can’t Keep Up With Poems by Randy Phillis

Plots We Can’t Keep Up With
Poems by Randy Phillis
Copyright 2014 by Randy Phillis
Encircle Publications, LLC
Softbound, 30 pages,  no price given
ISBN 13: 978-1-893035-22-5

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

Every so often a book of poetry comes across the desk by an author I have not heard of while the blurbs on the back cover do not really reveal much though the blurb writers seem to agree on memory, time and the bridge between past and present.

For these reasons I opened Randy Phillis’s Plots We Can’t Keep Up With somewhat hesitantly not wishing to be bored or stretched to my imaginative limits.  But I opened to page 1 and off I was on an interesting journey.  The opening poem is a bittersweet remembrance of a boy and his not so cool father, yet the memory affects his life with women in barrooms.

What’s a Boy to Do

As a kid I had a choice:
stay in the car or follow him in
to Ben’s, red lights
and thick smoke, sit at the bar
that came to my chin or
a booth if I had crayons and paper.

Behind the bar, the big mirror
floated the backs of bottle
over my forehead as Dad
leaned forward,
elbow propped so his cigarette
hung above his head, studying
the barmaid’s face not two inches
from his. Then he’d sit far back
and laugh, stretching carefully to ash,
and ask what went best
with pickled eggs.  All that was good
with beer he already knew.

Sometimes I’d stay in the car,
play the radio and dance
my fingers across the dash, clench
the hard cool wheel and jerk
until I understood he wouldn’t be right back.
Then I wandered the muddy lot,
floated bottle caps across puddles
and built solid homes for frogs.
Bored, I’d flatten my face
against the glass door for effect,
and finally drag myself in,
knuckles almost scraping across the stained
carpet and pull myself up beside him.                

Other days, sent on an errand by Mom,
I’d stop in by myself, blinded
by the sudden dark and drink
short cold Cokes on Dad’s tab.

But mostly, like now, I didn’t like
going in alone, reading all the signs
to keep my eyes busy, never knowing
what to say to the woman next to me.

A number of his poems are filled with booze
and/or death. In “Gone, Fishing” the opening
lines are “if it weren’t you who died/ it would have been me:”

While in “Directive,” the opening stanza is “When death unzips
me/let there be no struggle to pick a stone.”

Then again we learn in “A Husk Under the Gum” we learn  from “…on
Fridays, Dad at the bar,/Mom folded out on the couch…” that Phillis’s
parents were neither the most loving nor caring parents, or that perhaps
they are worn out from their week of work and whatever else they
did and their child was not No. 1 on their hit parade.

Then there is the title poem which opens: “Our neighbor’s wife has left him,”

There is not a lot of happiness in these poems, no matter who it is and perhaps
there are other poems and happier times for Randy Phillis. Nonetheless these poems
are well written, entertaining, maybe even captivating in their own (somewhat) depressing way.  

More importantly they present honest personal experiences and present poets with
a good lesson on how to write about their own lives.


Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010) and Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthologies No. 7 & No. 8
Publisher, Muddy River Books

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