Friday, May 10, 2019

Review: Captive in the Here by Gary Metras

Review: Captive in the Here by Gary Metras ( Cervena Barva Press)
--reviewed by Gregory J. Wolos

If only, Gary Metras seems to ask in the poems of his latest collection Captive in the Here, if only we could stand outside of time and fully engage with the experience of each moment we inhabit. There is so much beauty in the world, so many beautiful moments. But, we are humans, after all, we have memories, we have histories, we are aware of time and our obligations, and we leave tracks we can’t escape or ignore.

The titles of the three sections of this book, “History as Good as Fictions,” “Weather and Such Deceptions,” and “The Real World, As They Say,” imply the difficulty of accepting life as we find it, and the poems contained in each bear out this qualification. The collection’s first poem, “Confrontation with What I Have to Do,” establishes the poet’s mission and dilemma: to be both observer and victim of time. “The wall clock,” Metras writes, “escorts without kindness, / nor hatred; it has its own life / without us.” Our awareness of time imprisons us, not only in the past we can’t escape because it is part of us, but also in a future full of worries we can’t help but be aware of: “my father’s death approaches, my wife’s cancer blossoming years from now, / . . . A daughter . . . new to mortgage/ and waiting for time to bring a holiday/ so she can finish painting a spare room.” But though the poet cannot overcome the troublesome backward-and-forward relationship with time, at least he is capable of recording this awareness in his “cadences,” his poetry, and though he unable to protect “those I love,” he can at least preserve them in a poem: “captive in the here, the now.”

If we are the victims of time, what are we to value? In “The Tree House,” Metras depicts a boy mastering skills that enable him to build something permanent, a tree house that takes shape in his mind first. After he actually creates the tree house, his “new world/ . . . his hands smiled their cuts.” This value of work, especially physical work that confronts and transforms the natural of world, is also reflected in “The Hooded Men.” The workers the narrator observes “digging foundations in the snow/ . . . keep a schedule despite the season” and “earn the evening paper / and cup of whiskey-kissed coffee / in a cozy room each night.”

But is it enough to admire the work of creators? Metras suggests that the admiration of that which we don’t personally create ourselves, what we don’t generationally “capture in the here” on our own, has a diminishing value. The poem “Goshen Stone” captures the detailed care a father takes to build a stone wall, which he later shows to his son “when he thought he was old enough” to appreciate it; yet the father can only describe the structure in words, and when that son, years later, pauses with his own boy to admire the stone wall “your grandfather built,” he can only say “a few things about stones / as if his own soft hands knew what that meant.”

Is there the same kind of futility in a poet’s effort to preserve a moment in time for the reader? Is the act of creation of value only to the poet? “My Spider” begins, “I’ve invented a spider, / the green-backed spider.” The new spider, it turns out, was created by accident, “brushed . . . aside with the paint brush that left its back green.” There will be no future generations of new arachnids—it is the green spider of the poet’s moment.

And if not only accidental spiders, but also solidly built structures like the wall of “Goshen Stone” lose their value over time, what is the legacy of literature and its forms?
Metras dips into the past, parodying Eliot’s “Prufrock” as he laments the role of the teacher of literature in “Imagine Huck,” which envisions Twain’s young adventurer rafting down a modern polluted river: “I am no Huck Finn,/ was never meant to be/am a lone child scribbling this down . . . after years/ of kidnapping children and torturing them with . . . Homer, Shakespeare and Dickens,/ so they can keep the cycle afloat, if only in a dream.”

Yet it remains possible, Metras seems to suggest, for literature to help us transcend time, bringing depth of appreciation to the moments in which we are “captive.” It’s possible a poet, reflecting on old forms, or using them as a lens, can place that moment in a greater context. In “All the Futures,” there are echoes of Yeats’ “Leda and the Swan” and that poet’s gyres of history and artistic forms, as the narrator, playing with his granddaughter thinks, “how one thing builds upon another, how the golden walls/ of Troy lasted a thousand years, as flesh/ fell.” And, while Yeats wonders if Leda absorbs Zeus’s “knowledge,” of the eventual fall of Troy during their violent interaction, Metras contemplates the “blue rubber egg filled with pebbles” his granddaughter hands him and wonders at “all the eggs she carries, all the futures inside her, waiting.” Metras uses the frame offered by the Yeats poem to preserve his experience with his granddaughter. Though grandfather and granddaughter are “captive in the Here,” as we all are, the poet offers an opportunity to contemplate the future as he reaching into the past and, re-figuring an old poem, guides the reader into a vital, new experience.

Metras, finally, offers the reader a vision of the poet as a creator who transcends time by interpreting and preserving what might otherwise be only mundane experience. In the longest poem of the collection, “Thrust Reverser Actuator Access,” he records the experience of a jet flight from Cincinnati to Hartford; during his descent, the narrator’s attention is drawn to “small words printed white on blue metal,” words which the reader must take for granted are the words of the poem’s title. Metras understands that his purpose as a poet is to give this experience meaning: The words, as he sees them, “seem almost magical, almost un-human, unearthly, even/ words I could never use in conversation,/or anything else, except,/ perhaps, in a poem.”

And so, as with so many of the other poems in Captive in the Here, we join Metras in his contemplations, accepting him as our guide as he fills the time and space between Cincinnati and Hartford; we are resistless “captives” in the “here” these poems re-envision.

Gregory Wolos lives, writes, and runs in a small New England town. More than seventy of Gregory’s short stories have been published or are forthcoming in print and online journals such as Glimmer TrainThe Georgia ReviewThe Florida Review, The Baltimore ReviewThe PinchPost RoadThe Los Angeles ReviewPANK, and Tahoma Literary Review

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Mudanca: Poems by Kevin Cutrer

Kevin Cutrer
Poems by Kevin Cutrer
Dos Madres Press Inc.
Loveland, Ohio
ISBN: 978-1-948017-31-2
35 Pages

Review by Dennis Daly

Never underestimate the power of exuberance. Never, never underestimate the creative power of love’s exuberance. Kevin Cutrer’s new book Mudanca sings a melody of love like nothing I’ve heard in years. Can this be the return of courtly love? The poet’s words radiate authenticity as they reel through an emotional cross-cultural ether. Art, metrics, all of it fade into the distant background as Cutrer pulses out his evanescent, barely containable, joy.

Mispronunciations and other verbal missteps made by Cutrer’s persona in the opening poem, To the Woman for Whom He Is Learning Portuguese, become gentle love tokens as the poet woos and assures his lover that she is indeed his muse. Hilarity and amorous self-deprecation rule as the poem begins,

You must write about me. I’m your Moose!

O Moose, sing to me of the man who ordered pizza
by asking the waitress for a spanking, extra cheese.
The man who said, when introduced to your mother,
I am so pleased to meet you… Carrot.

Those are garlic bulbs that were my eyes.
The cheap dictionary turns roach faster
than you can say Gregor Samsa, scurries off,
and with it any hope of telling the barber not to short.

Cutrer, like all true lovers, considers separation from his lover anathema. His world also shrinks into the original garden, where he as Adam and his lover as Eve reign again as the center of the animate world. In the poem entitled Sepatos Cutrer laments the loneliness, even if temporary, which often plagues new-found love,

I can’t help feeling like some article
you didn’t need and didn’t pack,
like this pair of sneakers you abandoned
to the cold tiles of the bedroom floor.
At least they make one pair. I’m only one.
What will you wear on your bakery walk,
your morning quest for pao doce?
Will I have the appetite to breakfast alone?
I sit on the edge of our bed staring
at the blue canvas, the laces gray
with street dust, and my slouch deepens.
I touch the laces and say sapos,
my apprentice tongue transforming shoes
into toads, and off they hop…

With love comes magic. Cutrer, given a mango by his beloved, discovers its inherent enchantment. His lover as a child would race her sisters to the mango tree, then climb to its heights in an effort to win nature’s succulent prize. The poet succumbs to his muse
and imagines it in this charming way,

I see you perched on a branch
the marmosets fled in fright of you,
gloating as you hold your trophy aloft,
Stone-hearted tear larger than a heart,
And your sisters grunt their way toward you.
With a shining blade you trim off
whirligigs of mango peels
letting them drop…drop…your eyes falling
after them, past Eva, past Alba, landing
on roots that spill like the tresses of a witch’s
head of hair, root twining over root,
sprawled on the earth like petrified fire.

Perfect love songs say nothing. They simply tag an internal, searing need to available words that provide life-enhancing rhythms. Those rhythms can convey insuppressible joy or unendurable sadness. In his wonderfully written poem entitled Yes, Cutrer does both. He takes his reader from the rarified freedom of physical health through the flickering whispers of sedentary illness. Or from timelessness to a ticking clock. Here are a few of the poet’s more joyous lines,

Something in me said say yes,
say yes, and so I said yes, yes, let’s dance.
On the floor you giggled at what I called
my moves and kissed me for pity’s sake.

Can I see you again? Yes. Move in with me? Yes.

Yes to Brazil and the dilatory days.
Yes to Boston and the deciduous years.
Yes to anywhere and anywhen with you.

A lover often adores items associated with his beloved. Cutrer praises his Brazilian lady by lauding her birth county’s currency. Each detail seems in bas relief. Each color nourishes a new beginning. He marvels at the wonders provided to him in compensation for his simple teaching chores,

And like a stall in the ark each bill houses
a subject of the animal kingdom.
A macaw peers with piratical eye.
A jaguar drapes her arm across a branch.

Sea turtles soar in a blue bay, frayed
in the interchange from hand to hand,
folded three-fold upon itself and stuffed
into a man’s shirt pocket, showing through the white.

I earn my weekly menagerie
preaching the verb to be.

Mudanca, a Brazilian word for change and this collection’s title poem, chronicles love’s transformative powers. Cutrer conjures up grade-school embarrassments and subsequent long-standing fears. Typical stuff but, nevertheless, traumatic. An early attempt at dancing takes a disastrous turn. Even his school teacher shows distain. Ouch! But all of this is a setup to showcase love’s exhilarating intervention,

You ask
if I like to dance. Something in me
says say yes, say yes. So, I say yes.
It is all happening now
all in one moment
my first disastrous dance
our last I cannot see
in whatever catastrophe
awaits us to part us
some other where in time
I try not dare not think
but how can I not when
I awake and wake you
kiss the dark spot
on your finger one
more time one more turn
in the dance we began
that evening in Somerville…

Yes, dear readers, there are still troubadours among us. Cutrer, with this short, lovely collection, confirms it.