5” x 8” trade paperback
Published by Sunnyoutside
Buffalo, New York
Review originally published 10/2/08
The book arrives, perfect-bound and brooding, sitting on my desk waiting for devouring. So I have a little time to let the cover sink in while I finish up other tasks, to relish its secret contents for a few days. The title is long, hard to chew into and digest at first, leaving you with questions, for how can beautiful be lumped in with wretched and insignificant so seemingly carelessly? And what things, exactly, are we talking about? I mean, doesn’t that really smush everything into the same breath? And isn’t everything eventually destroyed?
A further look inside the book shows you that all the titles are long. A closer look at the titles shows you that they are more like stage directions, the setting of the scenery that is important for the characters to know and possess with their entire being, but unspoken to the audience who only gets to glimpse it through the characters’ full understanding of possessing it. The long titles, one being actually six words longer than the poem itself, really become part of the full poem, its first breath, its initial opened arms of welcome, a tribute to thought, to making the complete dialog have meaning that no “Untitled #12” or “Chapter One” or “[insert any generic title into these brackets because it sounds like something you might think has something to do with this poem]” can even come close to touching with the full ten feet. The small amount of space between the title and the first line of each poem also indicates that it was a very conscious decision to have the titles remain a full part of the poem, only separated by an italicized text size.
Despite the poetic, long-winded, stalwart titles, the poems themselves are meticulously simple, a paradoxical straight-forward tone lingering among heightened intensity; well-chosen to be small, well-placed to be exact, well-read to become huge.
Review: 37 Psalms from the Badlands
37 poems about, inspired by, or attributed to, the Badlands, by Hosho McCreesh.
The book is divided up into two sections, almost like chapters, although I must admit that after several quite clear-headed reads, both technical and emotional, I have not quite figured out these “chapters,” how they divide the work or their true meaning. Not that that hindered my ability to enjoy it. The titles of most of the poems and sections are snippets of genius taken from the poems, themselves. You read them singly, and they leave you pondering, out of context and poetically heightened, leave you wondering what the two sections of the book mean, how they are broken up and sectioned off, how the title of the book fits in with the poems and sections. When you read the lines within the context of the poems, namely with the poem, “For All These Wretched,/ Beautiful, & Insignificant Things/ So Uselessly & Carelessly/ Destroyed …” that contains both the title of the entire book and the subcategory title of the second section, you start really to get how it is all entwined. The title poem, which expounds on how a pig farmer in Canada has killed 49 prostitutes and fed them to his stock while the world goes on, unaffected and still thriving in the remedial, is really the sum of this book, which lends it quite nicely to being chosen as the book’s title. If ever there were an “equal sign” for a book, this poem is it.
The wordplay is powerful, albeit the occasional mouth- or eyeful on the first read. But on a second and slower reading it is captured fully, obviously, becoming clear, as bare as the sketches of skeletons that adorn the pages, dripping with metaphors that are chocolate and butterscotch topping on a sundae, rearing with similes as headstrong as horses, the words are whole and unaffected by trivial things, no matter how uselessly and carelessly destroyed.
McCreesh’s words are a beautiful commentary on our times, how we waste the gorgeous and revel in the mundane, how we squander the important and value the unnecessary. The poetic and romantic is contrasted with the raunchy and realistic. Such an example is the very first poem, “It Was Paris, Those Rainy Old Streets,/ The Soft Glow of Wrought-Iron Lamps,/ The Sun Setting Behind Grey-Faced Buildings,/ The City Vibrating With Some Kind of/ Romantic, Sad Song …,” which speaks of a romantic misty night interrupted by the realism of a floating empty can of dog food down the Seine. This thread runs throughout the book and brings you back again to the book’s title that first held so many questions, now getting answered quickly, repeatedly, loudly through each page turn.
Review: Sunlight at Midnight, Darkness at Noon
Hosho McCreesh and Christopher Cunningham keep alive the piss and vinegar we all know from Bukowski.
There is clarity in the words that find repetition on these pages: “painfully typical,” “dizzy,” “truth,” “death” … tied together with the common bond of destruction. The words attempt to make sense of madness or the finding of curiosity in small collapses of judgment of profoundly ordinary or imperfect or geniusly everyday people. An example from “This Dizzying, Senseless Place,/ This Place Where We Simply Waste Time/ While Looking for a Better Way to Die …” is:
& what if she would’ve
if that would’ve helped him,
encouraged him to keep at the canvas
Here McCreesh makes sense of the madness of this well-known artist who needs no introduction, this beautiful, wretched person, all these people being uselessly and carelessly destroyed by each other, in an attempt to say, Hey, what if we accepted people’s gestures, strange as they may seem? Maybe it would help them out? Help them not be quite so destroyed?
It raises more questions; although blame is a harsh reality, how much of it belongs to us for the destruction of those people and things around us? How many figurative ears have I not accepted from someone reaching out with a token of what he sees as kindness — or as McCreesh puts it,
a gesture, an offering,
a talisman of something
deep & honest & true,
— and what I see as disgusting? This touches on another running theme of the book: giving back, how we could have changed the course of things with our actions, from Hitler to Van Gogh to Mussolini, if only they had been showed love, how different it could be — complete with poem indents like little conversations with one’s self, a schizophrenic back and forth of contradiction or thought-switching, a private “what if” in mid-thought.
McCreesh’s most recently aforementioned poem, a serious stroke of genius, makes me want to change the way I view the gestures of others. And that is what makes this book, his words, and specifically this poem, so important to the literary world, what separates those who can truly hold a pen from those hacks who started poetry blogs just because their neighbor’s friend’s cousin did it, too.
The poems are personal, yet universal, which is maybe the hardest challenge of writing poetry, and one that McCreesh masters with the ease of the best of them. One specific example for me is with “Homeless Man at a Bus Stop on Central Ave.” Here in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we have a Central Square on Mass Ave, about ten minutes from my house, that this poem could easily be referencing. In this piece, McCreesh tells a tale of a bum who, before he could ask for change, gets involved in a conversation with a stranger and then can’t ask for change because it would look bad. It reminds me of my own anecdote of two bums, sitting outside 1369 Coffee House in Central, who got hot chocolate instead of booze money from me because I beat them to the punch before they could ask for change. Any poet who can truly evoke those memories, past thoughts, or personal anecdotes is reaching across the personal/universal threshold to say something that is actually meaningful to the masses, and really quite beautiful, which brings me to my next point:
With death being one of the most-used words in this collection and the whole feel of the black-and-white book being dark and ominous, it is easy to lose track of the beauty, but don’t let yourself. Because it is there with a vengeance, only masked beneath some darkness. There is a reason, however, that “Beautiful” is one of the largest, boldest words on the cover, but it’s up to you to unmask the beauty. When you do, it is your hidden treasure, and you will cling to it long after you have closed the cover.
As with most books, I tend to have a stand-out stanza or line, and in this review, I want to end with one of my favorites from “It’s an Ugly Gamble,/ An Exhausting Routine,/ All These Days & Nights We Face,/ Ugly, Exhausting — / Yet Necessary”:
It is, after all, the only way
to truly understand how
too much sorrow
erodes our hearts …
almost as fast as
Buy the book, and support an awesome independent press. You will not regret it.