‘Weakdays’ by R L Raymond, and ‘At The End Of The Street’ by Jay Passer
-Reviewed by Andrew Bailey–
corrupt press, the determinedly lower case publisher behind these pamphlets, declares that it exists because the founder, Dylan Harris, wanted to share the poems of interesting poets in his adopted Paris who were finding it difficult to get published – wanted “to put poetry into heads”. The short version is that these do that, leaving me grateful for the introduction to two poets previously unknown to me.
The first, Weakdays, very much aims at a comprehensible whole, based in details from the implosion of a marriage and an epigraph praising the virtues of story. Building up a narrative from the various spoken and unspoken nigglings and irritations is a neat trick, letting a reader dwell in the unpleasant pleasures of annoyance:
she glares at him
french vinaigrette dripping
from the mesclun
on the tines pointing down
the wrong way
Can’t you take anything seriously?
(from ‘Not any closer’)
This is typical in style of the nineteen poems, clean clipped language, and each line constructed around a single detail. Eschewing verbal fireworks means selecting your details well, and that’s generally true here – the sulking picked up in the decision to bend paper clips to breaking point rather than join a partner and drink wine, for example, or the wedding ring ominously smashed with a DIY hammer along with the hand that wears it in one of the earliest poems. Where I find misses, such as a joke about Occam’s razor that overbalances a poem somewhat, I’m carried past them by their companions, and by the narrative quality that brings you from poem to poem. (I’ll also note that I don’t understand why the title was chosen.)
The narrative quality also encourages links across poems, such as the echo of the smashed ring finger in the wife’s cutting her own through the ring of a bagel in a later poem – and it prevents me from talking about the last pair of poems, favourites as they are, as that would be giving out spoilers. I can say that they close off the sequence satisfyingly.
A good demonstration of the difference between Raymond and stablemate Passer can be found in the first sentences alone of their back cover biographical notes:
R L Raymond is a writer from London, Ontario.
Jay Passer, b. 1965, is a native San Franciscan, schooled in the gutter muse and service industry-bard, seen most often haunting the public house, city library and long pavement of the metropolis.
That self-mythologising note is the force that binds At the End of the Street together, in place of Raymond’s narrative. His first line is “What worries me”, his last two are “I was eleven / years of age”, and there’s an extended comparison of the poet as superhero in between. When it works, when it compels you to take the world through the same hyperbolised senses, it’s a powerful rhetorical whirl of a force:
you lie fallen or in repose like the bum on the parkbench
and the wildlife is fucking righteous again
for the last time and final a note before expiring
happy birthday world I blow out your candle.
I keep coming back to this poem, and its repetitions and elastic phrasings have not palled on re-reading. The whirl, sadly, isn’t always forceful enough for that to be true of all of them; making an equivalence of the thermonuclear end of the world and the speaker not having insurance in ‘Read All About It’ flirts with bathos, for example, and the closure of ‘Ballpoint Washed Off Hand’’ being a punchline demotes the rest into a mere feed.Those noted, though, there’s much to enjoy, such as the closing poem’s convincing memory of the USA’s 200th birthday for a pre-teen, with nothing of the day’s historical importance being able to hold a candle to that of the experienced day’s poison oak and borrowed Playboy.
Some impressive titles absolutely must be noted too: ‘Sinatra Like A Bulldozer Over Paris’, say, of ‘Screaming Within The Corpuscle Of The Word’. How to resist? And the choice detail of the “delicate chiseling / of aspen against snow bank” in ‘New Mexico’ is one that will certainly stay with me, one of the several from these pamphlets that have been – in corrupt’s terms – put into the head, and are welcome.
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