Sunday, January 27, 2008

Two New Reviews: " All the Meals I Had Before," and "No One Dies at the Au Bon Pain" by Doug Holder

These reviews are in the Winter 2007/8 edition of The Main Street Rag....

By Doug Holder
Cervena Barva Press ( 2007) 23 pages $7.

By Doug Holder
Sunnyoutside (2007) 28 pages $8
ISBN 1-934513008, Poetry

Aside from being the founder, publisher, and co-editor of the prestigious and influential Ibbetson Street Press, Doug Holder writes poetry with a passion and insight that deserves prestige and influence all its own.

Take, for instance, “Of All The Meals I Had Before: Poems About Food and Eating,” a work with an organic feel surprising for a chapbook. Among some odes to nostalgic eateries like “Last Night at the Wursthaus” and “At Benson’s Deli,” Holder ponders the silly—“Milk Duds”—and the sublime—“Portrait of My Mother During Her Solitary Meal.” His eye for the rattling image drives many of the poems, like “Eating Out” where he observes: “As the Latino/scrapes the masticated/bone and marrow/into a bloody bin/ and flashes a gold-toothed smile,/at the chef/ whose cleaver/tears through a prime cut--/then holds some/fraction of a gelatinous liver/quivering in his hands…” What makes his work so enjoyable is not only his well-described world but also the fun he has with it, as when he ends the same poem with the line,” “Meanwhile I order desert.” The book flirts with food and sex, comparing breastfeeding and sucking on a straw or rotisserie chickens and pornographic images, until it climaxes in the final poem “Cannibalism,” that begins:
“And what could be more intimate?/ To deflesh a skull/ crack a femur/ to get down/ to the very marrow/ Is there a greater/ act of love?”

His other book “No One Dies At The Au Bon Pain,” doesn’t hold together as well, but it is no less engaging and accessible. The topics are self reflection and relationships, especially those that end. He still exercises that eye for the absurd amid the mundane, as in “Public Restrooms” where :”

“ I once viewed them as religious places,/ men with their backs to me/ in front of urinals/ hands clasped together/ at their crotch/ as if in prayer.” His writing here, though, is less witty than straight to the bone, the bone an image he returns to in several poems.

The two books together show Doug Holder to be a poet of the people, not absorbed in navel gazing language games but reaching out and shaking readers awake.”

S. Craig Renfroe, Jr.

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