Saturday, July 19, 2014

Jurisprudence Poems by Patrick Meighan

Poems by Patrick Meighan
Published by Patrick Meighan
27 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Justice for all happens only in the mythological worlds of professorial academics and children’s literature. Still, society values the idea of truth and fairness being weighed in some ideal system of due process. Observers of our courts, like poet Patrick Meighan, not only provide us with insight into this vital universe, but also act as a potential corrective of the most obvious flaws inherent in our real-world legal processes.

Meighan, a former court reporter, opens his modest 27 page collection with a bit of self-reference. He dedicates the book by making a damning point: “For the guilty… we are the guilty.” He’s right, of course, and in a very real way. Aside from a Catholic upbringing saturated with “original sin,” many of us do occasionally accelerate beyond a 55 mph highway speed limit. In addition, dear reader, there may very well be other laws, regulations, and/or commandments that you or I have transgressed on a singularly bad (or exhilarating) day. Let’s go with that assumption as I continue my review.

Showing some common sense, Meighan begins his poetical series with a piece of practical advice to would- be perpetrators in a poem entitled Criminal’s Creed. The poet says,

Nothing good comes of smart-ass ways.
Beat-downs are certain. Don’t look to courts
for vindication. It isn’t there. It’s nowhere.
Hold your peace. Say nothing in answer to
smirks from faces with dark-mirrored glasses.

Internal time keeping invents its own reality in Meighan’s poem called Scene in a courtroom conference room. A lawyer and his client ponder fate, future, and a possible plea under the watchful eyes of the bailiff. The second hand on the institutional clock struggles onward like a mountain hiker. Meighan conveys the tenseness,

…his fingers wrestling one with
another. From the attorney: pale words of
options, of give and take. Meanwhile, the slender
hiker ascends and descends a distant range
of passing minutes. Where would time go
when it’s full of too many minutes to count?
Leaving a vast dessert to walk. A horizon so small
it seems more to fade as one draws nearer.
The door clicks open, giving the bailiff a start.

Too much information can jade one’s view of criminal justice. A well- known appeals attorney, Alan Dershowitz, has postulated the existence of a School for Lying attended by generations of police officers.  Hyperbole aside, many defense attorneys do pass on horror stories of perfidious police avowals. In the piece One true bible, the poet gives us his own take, laced with not a little humor, on this subject. The poem opens this way,

On the shelves thick with dust
of every police academy
you’ll find a dog-eared manual—
passages highlighted,
scribbled notes
misspelled in margins—
to enlighten cops in the craft
of lying.
How to look suspects
coldly in the eye,
not blink, and cite
with confidence
statements made by
nonexistent witnesses.
Or refer to evidence
real only in forensics
labs on TV shows.
Once cops learn this dark craft,
confessions will gush.

Good poetry often provokes. Good poetry can also be brave, but very rarely is. Meighan shows us his brave side in Butter People, a poem dealing with the difficult matter of child molesters. He treads a sometimes very thin line, contrasting the evil behavior of men sodomizing children with other offenders who, convicted of relatively lesser offenses, share with the aforesaid monsters a lifelong fate. The poet keeps good balance through these lines,

Some are self-made
Janitor with hair
Slicked back who
Sodomized a child
Served 20 in the pen
Others thrust into
That hell—pimple-faced
Young man consensual
With a teen runaway
What of the drunk boy
Who raped a drunk girl
Two years younger
At a house party
He took advantage
Served eight months
In county lockup
Now counted among
The demonic his face
Crucified on paper
Circulated about for a dozen years
(On the internet for eternity)

Lest you think that this poet comes from a bleeding heart position with squishy feelings about rehabilitating hardened criminals make sure you read his poem Letter to a newspaper. In it he seems to create an apparent composite of letters (not uncommon I bet) sent to newspaper editors from nervy psychopaths complaining of minutia in the face of the blood curdling details of their respective cases. Here’s the heart—excuse my poor word choice—of Meighan’s poem,

… I left my high school
two years ago, not three, as your reporter wrote).

I do however like your objective writing
Unlike TV, you haven’t called me “monster,”
not even in editorializing. And every detail,
how I crept into their room at night
and slashed the mother’s throat, and left
the child for dead, as good as dead, from
the horror with which I forever stained
her mind…

Occasional black humor helps round the sharp edges of some of these narratives. In Meighan’s poem A Richards Hearing waiting to happen, the poet sets up a pretty funny dialogue between an experienced cop and a career criminal doubling as tell-tale rat. Here’s a few of the lines,

… He stiffed me once, so I shut him off.”

“Wait a minute. You say you were his dealer? Pot, or pills?”

A little of both, officer. Mainly pills. I can i.d. the prick for you
if you need me to.”

“I see. What the hell. Sure. Thanks for your help. Who knows
To what depths society might plunge without dutiful citizens like you.”

Meighan’s speaks to a blinded citizenry fearlessly and with intelligence. His poems in Jurisprudence demand nothing less than a recalibration of the scales of justice. And, kudos to him, it’s about time.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Review of the Briar Cliff Review, Volume 26, 2014

Review of  the Briar Cliff  Review, Volume 26, 2014

Alice Weiss

            Briar Cliff  Review, glossy, eight by eleven, book bound,  has riches: for the eye, for the mind, for the heart. There are poems, essays, short stories.  Every poem is accompanied by a color photograph, or a color photograph of an artwork, on a facing page.  The resulting experience is sumptuous.  The editor, Tricia Currans-Sheehan is an ironist and a gimlet eyed observer.  I know this because the photo given pride of place is black and white, pictures a man’s chest, hands pulling his shirt open to reveal the Superman logo reaching from his collarbone to mid abdomen.  Above the left fist gripping the shirt, is a smallish but readable name tag like one you would wear at a convention: CLARK KENT/ DAILY PLANET REPORTER/50 YEARS OF SERVICE.

             The editor’s theme: the international is local.  The editor’s choices broadly international.  Thailand, Paraguay and Pakistan, are examples of the reach. The first story “Thunder in Illinois” rather remarkably illustrates that theme. It spans the world from Champaignw-Urbana to Bangkok, but its locality is the marriage of the Evanses. Mister being an international contractor with a mistress in Bangkok and Mrs. being a fourth grade teacher who nonetheless and knowing his indiscretions stays married to him.  Their battleground is a scrabble-like weekly game.  They have been keeping score for all the years of their marriage.  He is losing by a few points although their scores are close and add up to more than a million.   She minds about the mistress.  He is dying slowly from Leukemia. What is amazing about this story is how adroitly the writer, Leslie Kirk Campbell, handles all this material so you never notice you are reading a novel in five pages.

            Rose Lane’s “Apogee,” the winner of BCR’s poetry contest, follows a dying father through all the last times he does the things he does in his life, selling his lobster boat, mowing neighbor’s lawn “for a couple of bucks.” While the family watches the tractor reel, and his head bob up over the tall bushes, the poem rises to a moment when the father picks up a dying baby bird, “no bigger than a knuckle,” holds it and merges weeping with it in their common death, the bird “pecking his path ahead.” Opposite this poem is the photograph of a painting, “Vespers,”by Arlene Laoesche Branwick,a gold and orange yellow cloudish color and a dark maroon, leading to a bright line horizon and then more darkness.  Apogee, the word, designates the point at which a planetary body is furthest from the earth, a dispersal or a movement of spirit both poem and painting share.

            Another coupling of the visible and the poetic: on the left side page a monotone  Roberto Kusterlle, A Silent Mutation 9A/Head.  gelled and spiked, spikes, sharp beige tipped, scalp hair dark, sie of neck and face a rich browny beige, skin rough even scarred.  The shocking sight is the spikes all over the head, but you can’t help thinking thorns.  No face show in the photograph.
The facing page, a poem by Jed Myers, “Another Start”
            Before all the stars there was a dark /magnificent woman. . . a run
            just under the knee in that black silk
            stocking with all the luck – that’s all

            it took, a little defect, maybe
            only as long as a light year

The power of that defect and the scars and spike resonate in such a way that again the picture and the poem become meditations on each other’s power and power, itself.
            This is a magazine with many such moments.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

On My Way To Becoming A Man by A.D. Winans

(Left) A.D. Winans with the late Jack Micheline
On My Way To Becoming A Man
by A.D. Winans
© 2014 by A.D. Winans
NYQ Books
New York, NY
ISBN 978-1-935520-25-2
Softbound, no price given, 108 pages

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

I have read that A. D. Winans is the second coming of Charles Bukowski. That he is the new Allen Ginsberg. However, believe me he is neither of these, he is his own world class poet. Bukowski was mostly about himself and his booze or his women. Ginsberg was about everything else.

Winans in his new book On My Way to Becoming a Man shows where he is coming from: speaking out for the working class, the downtrodden, the poor, women, the abused, victims of war and his personal opposition to war.

Often described as the “last of the beats” Winans carries on their tradition with his uncompromising observations and exclamations.

This book begins on military bases where Mr. Winans is quick to learn the hard lessons of military life at Lackland Air Force Base and then Panama.

Many of his poems leave no doubt what they are about: “Growing Up In America,” “The System,” “Reaganites,” “Chinatown Sweatshop,” “We The People,” and his final “I Am San Francisco,” a not to be missed poem in which he combines all of the Beats and pieces of Bob Kaufman, Ginsburg, Bukowski, semblances of Kerouac and others.

What makes Winans poetry so good is that he knows and understands the low and high ends of society and most everything in between. He deals with San Quentin Prison, the Pope, Sitting Bull, Old Poets and more.

Who but Winans can criticize poets we hold near and dear? Who else can skewer politicians and dead presidents? Who would dare go after major corporations, the military, establishment heroes while commenting on the futility and corruption of so much in America?

We (the people) just don’t have any poets around who speak for us the way Winans does, whether you like how he does it or not. Too much poetry has degenerated in self-wallowing pity or self-created failure. This meaningless poetry is offset by the real poetry of Winans assaults on war, politics, religion and the wealthy.

Following are lines from Winans which are difficult to forget and worth remembering:

the IRS is a legal shake down
the Pentagon a slaughter house
--from San Francisco Blues

they cross the border
looking for a piece
of the promised land
entering a country that once
belonged to their ancestors
--from Poem for the Governor of Arizona

he toils on the assembly line
works an eight ten hour shift
leaves a piece of him behind
for every part he helps make
--from Factory Worker

U.S. generals claim substantial
gains and important victories
in the past month while fresh supplies
of bodies are ordered by the Pentagon
for expected vacancies computed
to exist from statistical backlog
and Vietnam (Cong) terrorist activities
--from Dial 890 Remembering The Old

I watched the Cavalry charge
the Indian villages
like Attila the Hun
believing Custer a hero
and Sitting Bull a savage
-from Growing Up In America

this poem is for those
who gave their lifeblood
to wash the streets free of oppression
for those who rest in heroic
and not so heroic graves
in the struggle
for human dignity
--from Poem for Roberto Vargas and the
Nicaraguan Freedom Fighters

These are but a few examples extracted from the 52 poems and 108 pages of some of the more meaningful poetic lines written by a surviving member of the generation of poets who provided us with ideas to think about, actions to take and memories to last. You will find this trio of important concepts in A.D. Winans’s On My Way To Becoming A Man. Don’t miss this book
Zvi A. Sesling
Author, King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street Press)
Author, Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva Press)
Editor, Muddy River Poetry Review
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 7
Editor, Bagel Bards Anthology 8
Publisher, Muddy River Books