Saturday, November 15, 2014

Lucky Bones By Peter Meinke

Peter Meinke

Lucky Bones

By Peter Meinke

University of Pittsburgh Press

Pittsburgh, PA

ISBN 13: 978-0-8229-6310-3

82 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

Passion trumps this frivolous world of detail—Belgian chocolates, Coppertone lotion, dry martinis, bright ribbons, doubles tennis, and, heaven help us, sonnets. Peter Meinke in his new collection of poems, Lucky Bones, quantifies the passionate nature of interior intensity and hell-bent fervor by poking fun at himself and humorously (or not) eviscerating a chosen set of targets inhabiting this vale of tears that we call life. Many of his poetic commentaries Meinke delivers in formalist verse with a cunning dry wit that both elucidates and cautions.

The poet begins ominously with his first sectional poem entitled Drive-By Shootings. Here he sets up his backdrop and shades it with bitters. Meinke says,

        …People pedal on bikes drop

  Some money in the hole stick in their arms get a shot and wobble away

     Sometimes getting hit by cars the same needle all afternoon

             That’s the kind of world we live in

Civilization masks bloody-mindedness and boiling lust. Meinke’s piece Cassandra in the Library alludes to ancient Troy while the poet simultaneously conjures up modern academia and contemporary office life. Here’s the unpleasant heart of the poem,

            Poetry no wisdom withstands the test

               of blood: when mind and body clash

         the mind’s the one whose opposition’s rash

                        Killing liquid work’s dust

         Our craving for passion quenched by a crimson lust

           What can an office offer but a cursed

                 routine an inane trivial bore?

           A water cooler doesn’t slake the thirst

              of blood that rages for a taste of war

       a horde of disappointed men have dreams

    fired by bursting flares and female screams

The rhymes lighten the content thereby creating an odd but interesting counterpoint. I very much like this poem.

Skewing the Roman Catholic papacy can get old quickly and is not my cup of tea. However when a bit of compressed wit like the poem Habemus Papum nudges me I can’t resist. Habemus Papum, as announced by a cardinal from St. Peter’s Basilica after a papal election concludes, means “we have a pope.” Meinke appears to have tired of Vatican officialdom and its moribund language. He celebrates/laments in this part of the piece,

                        O goodum! Habemus papum

                             who’ll soon intone

                               the usual crapum

                        and the poor poor will weepum

Athletes and poets have a lot in common up to and including their need to be loved and appreciated in their own time. Unfortunately, the gods of sport and art operate on a different timeframe. In Meinke’s title poem, Lucky Bones, a tennis player of 78 years makes a great shot during a doubles game. He looks to his wife for approval as he had done as a younger man. But time has passed. Meinke concludes with pathos,

…his wife

who used to toss car keys

that flashed through light

like lucky bones crying Hey

         big fella think fast!

 And he thinks That’s

just past in my head

     like a re-eyed crow

and he’s thinking Christ he

could still catch them if she

   were still there to throw

Armed with talent enough to cause the doubling up in laughter of bards and bad reviewers everywhere, Meinke takes on the sonnet in his piece Front-Rhymed Easter Anti-Sonnet. His faux attack doesn’t miss a beat. Bucking revered tradition he even removes the end rhyme scheme and transplants it at the line beginnings. The untraditional cur! Consider these pretty funny lines,

    … Bad enough you have to use

  words without sinking the buggers in fourteen

  lines O Shakespeare Milton what made you

  choose them? O Formalist can’t you read the

signs? O Meinke why are you writing another?

            Who’s sick of sonnets?  Iamb  Iamb 

For Emily Dickinson it’s all about repressed sex and mannered poetry in Meinke’s excellent parody of that poet entitled Emily Dickinson Thinks about Buying a Ribbon. There’s something about Dickinson that invites quality parody. I’m thinking of X.J. Kennedy’s Emily Dickinson in Southern California. In Meinke’s poem Dickinson debates the color of her prospective ribbon almost to the point of indecency which, of course, is the point in this astonishingly deep piece,

I would like to get red—


       But father would disapprove

  A serious Blue—then—worn loose

  Like a Lover’s knot

        A decent one could strangle

  With it—I’d have wine

       Not the barrell’d rum of Father’s

  Then—let him come—

Meinke takes great pleasure in self-deprecation. He gets away with it because he is that good. His poem On Completing My PHD reads like an ongoing gag, but carries with in some quite serious undertones and unasked questions. The poet concludes by rattling off his educational symptoms,

And I who’ve developed

  a twitch a tic a cough

 can’t tell if I am finished

    or only finished off

    I learned Byron had a clubfoot

      Nietzsche’s health was drastic

         Poe was a dipsomaniac

        And I’m already spastic

 I learned that Shakespeare really lived

        so scholars have decided

   Though quite a few have studied me

       they’re not as sure that I did

The poet again summons up academia in a villanelle entitled The Old Professor. Keeping their eyes on Professor Warren’s nicotine-stained teeth as he enlightens his students on New England’s luminaries can prove a didactically sound methodology. Meinke explains,

                                                … Transfixed we

            watched you grind your nubby teeth to stumps

            waiting for you to spur us through our jumps

               from Cotton Mather up through Emily

                        Is every pilgrim happy on the bus?

             We never were sure when you were serious

                   chaining your Camels unpuritanically

                grinding your browning teeth to nubby stumps

              and tossing questions far from the syllabus:

                 Would you rather live on Broad or Beacon Street?

                        Are Smith and Bradford riding the same bus?

Peter Menke has been writing good, sometimes great poems for a long time. Whatever he has for breakfast I want to try. This poet’s in top form.

*** originally appeared in the Fox Chase Review

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