Friday, March 08, 2013

GRAND MAL Poetry by Dennis Mahagin

Poetry by Dennis Mahagin
Paper,  $12.95
122 pages
ISBN 978 1 60864 051 5


Review by Susan Tepper

GRAND MAL Book Review

What makes Dennis Mahagin run?  Run, as in jet engine propelling tons of steel down a runway and up into the sky.  From his opening poem GRAND MAL W / GROWN UP, it’s clear things are out on the table:

“Back then there was Grandma, / stuffing your thoughtless pie hole / with a freshly-bought / Ivory soap cake, / after you just popped off / to your impressionable siblings / at breakfast, a wisecrack / about the sweet / peach ridge panty cleft / on February’s / Sports Illustrated / swimsuit cover model— /… ”

GRAND MAL can be frantic, it’s often funny, often strung out, yet the craft here never wavers.  The poems hang together the way a talented musician knows to assemble dissonant chords, making them something powerful and profound that will move people; provided it’s done without strain or artifice.  For many years Mahagin was a bass player and song writer— no surprise!  Music punches up each of his fractured poetic lines, so when they coalesce into lyrical scenes they move and shout and lament from that deep well in the land of the down and out: the almost dead; or dead for all practical purposes. 

So why Grand Mal?  Medically speaking, Grand Mal is a seizure characterized by 4 phases (there’s an epigram explaining each Phase as it delineates the book’s 4 sections).  Mahagin writes in BANISHING THE SNAKES: 

“It’s a go-fast world, and green / is the color of my disease— / … / I’ve done that / Riverdance sidestep, / caught the flak of dripping fang / that makes you so dreadful sick; / and I can tell you: no driftwood / wishbone stabbing stick at arms length / will work on this bitch it’s strictly up / close and personal, under your thumb / in a fire nozzle grip, until she opens wide, / blasting poison like syphilis piss / on a slush bank…”  (from Phase 1). 

Sub-dividing the book in this way allows the poems a forward momentum that tightens narrative tension, while at the same time maintaining the Grand Mal as its driving metaphor.   He writes in FARE:  “The Laotian impresario / at the outcall agency / recommended her / as a star in his stable: / “She go slow— she so / con-sooo-mate… pro.” / Now, as she slips on / the glistening condom / with her mouth / in a frisson of python, he bats back / the eyelid splash of rushing purple dusk /…”  (from Phase 2). 
So what makes Mahagin run?  Perhaps the demons of his past, present, and the always uncertain future, which is part and parcel of what makes poetry such a compelling art form.  Some can channel these demons better than others.  Mahagin puts it transparently out there, saying to anyone who happens to amble by, for a read:  “Stuff they give / to empty you / out, / makes sleep / tough, / getting up / to go, crapper / to sack , and back / …”  from ENDOSCOPY (Phase 4).  

GRAND MAL  is the second book by this prolific poet.   I eagerly anticipate more. 
—Susan Tepper

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