Monday, April 26, 2010


EAT NOT THY MIND by CHARLES PLYMELL (Glass Eye Books/Ecstatic Peace Library


Just as it takes a certain sensibility to, for example, dig New Orleans jazz a hundred years later, so it takes a certain frame of mind to relate to poetry harkening heavily back to a bygone era. Does that mean it takes a particular, even peculiar, mindset to respond wholeheartedly to Keats or Wordsworth or Shelley? Perhaps. But perhaps not. After all, are they not assigned to every schoolchild as examples to be appreciated, esteemed and emulated? Still and all, not every contemporary poet or consumer of poetry is at ease with strict rhyme and meter: to many it is a confining and distorting formal straitjacket which hinders and diminishes. We have evolved, they say, the past provides stepping stones not prescriptions.

So one can argue that it is inappropriate to criticize the styles of bygone times Рit is what people did then: they made the most of the clay of the day. After all, Bach was not rendered pass̩ by Beethoven and Beethoven is not the worse for having antedated Schoenberg or Stravinsky or Copeland. Chaucer and Raymond Carver were different writers for different times.

So what are we to do about writers who continue to write today in what is by now a bygone style? If it was valid then, spoke to people then, why not continue to produce in that vein? If it once was hot, why not? What’s wrong with composing a new St Louis Blues? Nothing, I suppose, if people today want to hear it, or read it. (And, of course, if it is good.)

We may not write like Keats any more – (hopefully) no one would think to try to produce another La Belle Dame Sans Merci -- but his truth and beauty are still relevant. So what about beat poetry? Are there still folks out there who can groove on the kaleidoscopic imagery of a bygone era? Well, why not? Allen Ginsberg, for example, is part of the accepted canon. His stuff happened in its context and we can appreciate it as an earnest expression of that context.

So here we have Charles Plymell – loose hanging far out tripper buddy of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Cassady et al -- writing beat poetry in 2009. As if to confirm his point of view, the frontispiece (as it used to be called) of his book comes fully equipped with a peace symbol and a psychedelic eyeball. Any child of the 60’s can understand where he is coming from, but is that enough?

And so, the First Question: who out there today will appreciate Charles Plymell’s new volume of beat poetry? What contemporary reader will trip along with lines such as these:

In the paradise of what was once the basin of angels

Sappho found without her cell phone popping a pill

under the olive tree and palm leaves swaying in L.A.

- or to the opening lines of the first poem in the book:

Stone locked savant harmony turn to wounded dust

near us the Monument Rocks in Grove County Kansas

where we heard the voice leveling the wind howling

from ancient shrieking calendars of fiery tent rituals

form violent hoof beats into the plains of autistically

unplugged grumpy Osage where the dominant Sioux

many Navaho came north before Black Kettle’s band

perished in tragic psychic fire of final transformation

cyanic voices gray faces beneath melancholy brown.

Is this poetry which can speak to universal human experience or solipsistic self-absorption? Will today’s readers dig it, or will they dismiss it as anachronistic drug-induced word salad, freely-associated disassociated half-images generated by an unfocused, overly distracted, mind? Is it creative improvisation or a soloist gone off on a random riff playing his own private non-harmonies? Far out is fine, but who’s driving?

Not all the pieces are free association enjambed poetry, however; some of them are essentially prose:

Stardust trapped at the bang became dehydrated, gave off methane gases in the deep

waters gradually through microbial flesh selves, reaching oxygen. Under high

pressure, methane insinuates itself into water around ancient microbes such as

archaea that do not have a nucleus and lack bacteria.

- or –

When anchored, yelled the captain to keep the ship from dragging or waggling at the

same angle from the sun the flower flicker after the waggle dance stops. Hmm said

old Nils about the natives. Their God seems good and true, so I guess we’ll have to kill them.

-- and so on.

And so, the Second Question: Is the poem-like beat stuff really poetry or an acid flashback – or both? Are the prosey pieces actually prose poems or just prosaic? In other words, even if you can dig it, does it really groove, is it any good?

Beats me.


  1. Can't help but notice the reviewer uses the word "bygone" twice to describe the Beat scene. It seems strange to me to chastise someone who was right in the middle of it for years for writing in a style that he has written in (beautifully) over the duration of much of his career. Or was the reviewer just having an acid flashback? Nice stereotype. Maybe get over your flashy use of Keats and Beethoven and review the work itself, which is fantastic.

  2. Anonymous8:26 PM

    If the reviewer had been presented with these poems anonymously, how would he have evaluated them? He couldn't default to his "bygone" beat position, he'd have had to evaluate the work on its own terms--perhaps what he should have done in the first place.

  3. In the first place, Plymell has never claimed to be a Beat poet, and like any good writer, his work has evolved over time. The trouble with blogs is that anyone can write anything about anyone without any knowledge of what he is talking about. If you're going to be critical of some one, you should first research the person and find out something about him and his larger body of work. A simple Google search would have provided Solomon with a wealth of material on who Plymell is, both the man and his work. Plymell is a proven poet and writer and this new book of his is beautifully produced and brilliantly written. Solomon didn't review the work itself, which is a bad trait found in to many small press reviewers. And it's obvious he didn't research the author of the book. Well maybe Somomon can find the answers he seeks in Alice in Wonderland. I'd suggest he begin with the movie version.

    A.D. Winans

  4. Best morning I have had in a long damn time reading Eat Not Thy Mind.
    This has really gotten me excited about poetry again. I am breathing deeper... My blood pressure has dropped and I feel like I have fallen down the rabbit hole into Charley Plymell's Wonderland of straight in your face don't turn your head away from the world we live in and candy coat it dream... because the beauty is all here on this page in a breath... This is one that will stay in my pick it up and read over and over collection of timeless poetry.
    Mr. Plymell's style transcends scholarly text shooting straight from the hip into the heart of the brain.
    A true and pure gift... the kind that can't be taught...
    Thanks Charley :-)
    MJ Mansfield

  5. Phil Scalia5:00 AM

    Eat Not thy Mind is an absolute delight. A more cogent analysis and dissection of America's troubled soul you will not find. And the language... so beautiful, a surprise around every corner. New constellations form and swirl in a parallel zodiac. Plymell is one of the few apostles of freedom we have left. Listen to him.

  6. I was happy to see a review on Charley's recent masterpiece. However, I felt like I was on acid as I read Mr. Solomon's review.

    I do have a florid case of A.D.D. so I read the review twice to see if maybe it was ME who was "unfocused and overly-distracted." After all, I was rather confused and nonplussed by the inaccuracies contained in the review.

    I thought I was tripping when Mr. Solomon referred to the PUBLISHER'S INSIGNIA on the BACK OF THIS BOOK incorrectly as the "frontispiece."

    So I grabbed my copy of this book and saw with my sober eyes that in fact, the publishers had stamped this book with THEIR "fully-equipped" logo...a peace sign and eye ball...

    The author of this book selected a wonderful collage by Claude Pelieu as the cover; I imagine no author would sweat their publishers to hire a graphic designer to reconfigure the company's standard logo.

    The publishers of this book are really on the ball (even if Solomon is bothered by their "EYE BALL") because this book remains the number ONE top selling book out of their entire list of best sellers on the their website.

    Furthermore, they made it clear in the discription of the book that it INCLUDES prose. The author didn't simply "sneak" some prose in there. As if!

    From the Publisher's website it states, "Part polemic, part distress signal, part poetry, part prose, the work is embued with the unique rhythms that inhabit Plymell like a spirit demon."

    I give this book a full-tilt high-five and have a pernicious suspicion that Solomon didn't do his research.

    But that's par for the course when one dabbles in a disease I call ACADEMIAIGNORAMIA. I am glad Solomon's virus of pedantry and pontification aren't contagious.