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Friday, July 14, 2017

Book Review: Wayne F. Burke A LARK UP THE NOSE OF TIME (BareBackPress, Hamilton, 2017) 92 pages



A Lark Up the Nose of Time is Vermont based writer Wayne F. Burke's fourth collection poetry published by BareBackPress. It follows Words That Burn (2013), Dickhead (2015) and Knuckle Sandwiches (2016). A fifth volume, tentatively entitled Poems From The Planet Crouton, will shortly be forthcoming. Some of the poems have previously appeared in fine small press publications such as Meat For Tea, The Rat’s Ass Review, Zombie Logic Review, The Bees Are Dead and dozens of others.

There are 75 poems in this collection which are divided into six sections. The poems are typically confessional & 20-30 lines in length and use a rush of anecdotal detail in simple, highly accessible language. The words hug the left margin and cascade down the page without the relief of stanzas. The narrative, free verse poems are reminiscent of Bukowski but Burke puts his own particular spin on the humbling tales of a flawed man.

In the interview which follows at the end of this review, Burke was asked if he makes any shit up. He shrewdly replies, “On rare occasions, yea, but more in the way of exaggeration than lies. I mean, the poem is not a transcription of so-called REAL life, but an act of creation. It can go wherever the mind takes it. I am not writing autobiography though I use my life experiences as a sort of foundation or template or buoy maybe, something to anchor the imaginary stuff to.”

After graduating from college in the late 1970s, Burke has worked in a wide variety of jobs, “Jobs,” he cynically quips, “that someone in America with a degree in liberal arts is deemed qualified for: truck driver, laborer, janitor, dishwasher, cook, moving man, machine shop operator, store clerk, substitute teacher, security guard, oil rigger, census taker, gas station attendant and others.” More recently, Burke has worked as a Nurses Assistant and after returning to college in his 50s, as a higher paid Practical Nurse.

His wide life experiences have enabled Burke to write insightfully about the human condition but he remarks that we all are unique and have a story to tell: “The work has given me subjects and/ or anecdotes to write. It is part of my story—everyone has a story. It is what we have—all we have—that is essentially our own.”

Burke stresses that he wasn’t on his death bed when he began to get it all down, “My heart operation at 58 did not prompt me to start writing again—I had started about a year before with a do or die attitude, that it was time, now or never…I finally found the FORM, poetry, and exploited it."

The poems appear to be quickly and urgently written which give the collection a raw, spontaneous edge. But in an email this morning, Burke expressed clearly the pain-staking difficulty of his writing process, "The first draft of pieces may be 'quick' but my god the sometimes torturous struggle to get the thing into shape--get it to a point where it can easily be read--where the music of the language is just so--that is never a 'quick' process. Screw, chip, clip, prune, cut, smooth, flatten...Can go on & on. Freakin' forever."

To give you a heads-up about what’s in the book, here’s a brief overview of the 6 sections:

DIRTY SUN

These poems take us back to Burke’s childhood in the late 1950s and 1960s, to a time when kids were allowed to play in trees (“Bomber”) and take crazy, sometimes deadly risks (“Disgust”, “Kamikaze”), when ice creams cost a dime (“10 cents”), when bullying (“Posse”), overt racism (“Schwartzie”) and pedophilia (“Bill”) were rampant, when people paid lip service to religion (“Holy Moly”) and were sexually naïve (“Babies”), when fists could be meted out to resolve neighbourhood disputes (“Fat Bastard”) & inter-gang rivalries (“Sphincter”) , a time when kids played impromptu ball games (“Ballplayer”) and when mentally sick people were placed in institutions rather than being left to fend for themselves on the streets (“Looney Bin”).

Burke writes about his childhood with great affection and without passing judgment on the people or events. He simply records what he saw & can recall- piling on the images, with the occasional use of direct speech to add to the poem’s authenticity.

The poem “Bill” showcases Burke’s use of understatement and his grim verbal irony from this period:

Bill

stepped off of the town bus one day
and onto the field
where we played football
and told us his name was “Bill”
and that he had watched us
from the bus
and that
if we would let him
he would be our manager
and try and arrange games
between us and teams from
other towns…
He wore glasses and had a long
horse-face plus white shirt and
black slacks on a bowling-pin shaped
body;
he came by every day afterward
to watch us;
he said he would be our score-keeper
and that he would write stories about us
and have the stories published in the
newspaper…
At the dinner table my Uncle
asked about Bill
and I told him what Bill had said
he would do for us
and the next day my Uncle
showed up at the field
and told Bill to get lost and to stay
the hell away from us
and me and the other kids
did not know why my Uncle
was so upset or
why he had told Bill to go away
because,
we all agreed,
Bill was a nice guy
A very very nice guy.

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)


RIPE BANDANNA

These poems cover Burke’s early working life as a house painter (“Brad”), fry cook (“Vane”), laborer (“Nips”) and a carpenter’s assistant (“Roy”). These are essentially portrait poems of the men who have employed the young adult Burke. The speaker, presumably Burke, is usually drunk or hungover, projectile vomiting, getting stopped by the cops or getting the crap beaten out of him.

The poem “Lights” is characteristic of Burke’s gritty, detached, matter-of-fact style:

Lights

We got stopped by cops
in a show of blue light
and a cop told my cousin
“step out of the car”
and made him walk a straight line
touch his toes
then his nose
and my cousin,
as shit-faced as he was,
somehow passed the tests
and we drove off
to the club
where we picked-up two girls
and then drove up to the mountain top
with them
and parked;
the wind howled around the car
non-stop
the lights of the town dully glowed
in the valley below;
my cousin and his girl went for a walk.
My girl had bow-legs
and a pigtail;
she unzipped my pants
then pulled hers off
then straddled me
as I lay back,
then she sat and guided me
inside of her and
then moved up and down
and lifted off
as I shot
and the wind wailed
and the car rocked
and down below the lights winked
on & off.

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

A LARK UP THE NOSE OF TIME

The catchy title of the collection derives from the opening poem of this section. It is a road trip poem which describes a journey taken by Burke and his two friends Ron & Steve from Kansas, to Saint Louis and Daytona and eventually to Ottawa.

This section is perhaps the best in the collection as it offers more considered adult perspectives on life- the misunderstandings, the stuffed-up relationships between people, the physical pain, the terrible loneliness, the boredom, the loss of direction and purpose in life.

The poem “Fall” uses the concept of pathetic fallacy in an extended metaphor of swirling leaves to describe Burke’s mental unrest and his brooding sense of procrastination: 

Fall

trying to decide what to do with myself
I sit
on a park bench
in the sunlight
to think
and I get caught
in whirlwinds
of yellow and rust-colored leaves
rushing from one side of the park
to the other
like a mob storming a Bastille
but then
lying down just as quickly,
spent
apparently,
until they get up
and renew the rush
only in a different direction
obviously confused
and
unruly;
a tornado of them whirls into the road
and is run through by a truck
and scattered;
they are a spiritual force
mainly
though make a clatter on the sidewalk
like tiny horses’ hooves
scuttling
like the clouds
across the sky,
not sure where they are going
either.

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

HAIKU-YOU

This is a series of 9 haiku poems. My favourite is the macabre:

my jacket
hung by the neck
until Spring

POLITICS, POLITICS

Here you’ll find four anti-Thump poems which reflect Burke’s alarm about “the joke” of a president America has elected, “who loathes his own constituents/ and is using the dumb-fucks/ to gain power/ in order/ to glorify his ego” (“Herr Trumpf”).

SPARE TOOTH

This last section is an eclectic mix of poems which include a portrait poem about a high school buddy (“Lou 1954-2016”), advice about life (“Advice”) and his family’s recollections of what Burke was like as a toddler (“Baby”).

Yet after you’ve read this section a number of times, you get the impression that these poems are meditations on the general malaise and hollowness of contemporary living. They chart Burke’s underlying discontentment with life, of feeling trapped by the fakeness of things (“Oasis”), where the allure of alcohol (“Drink?”), fast cars (“108 mph”) and women (“Knock Knock”) has largely waned. Burke sees himself as a “dumbfuck” (“Dumbfucks”) and driving in his car he feels a brooding, unshakable sense of ennui (“Straight”).

In the last poem in the collection “Spirit”, this unbearable sense of hopelessness and dread & loneliness briefly lifts:

Spirit

the spirit flew in
through the window
and down my
gullet:
I love it,
it tells me
that there is hope
that there is a future—
but the night, I said to the spirit
it is so dark,
and I am all alone;
and the spirit said that
it knows all about
the dark and
the lone,
and does not think much
of either.

(reprinted with the permission of the poet)

 As in his earlier work DICKHEAD, this is a varied collection of first person confessional poems. The book is structured roughly in terms of the chronological age in which Burke appears in them. The poems are easy to read and you have to admire Burke’s tenacity in getting this shit down. My only criticism is that although I do not require glasses to read, I found the font size (9) a tad small for my liking.








AN INTERVIEW WITH WAYNE F. BURKE 8 JULY 2017

I recently asked Burke a shitload of questions about his writing. The following is what he provided- the use of paragraphing is mine:

I started to try and write a poem when I was nineteen and at my 3rd college. My college roommate was the first guy I ever met who admitted to writing poetry. It was though his influence that I started to write verse--it was through him that I learned what I know of writing poetry, not from a professor or class I took though there was a high school English teacher and a professor at the first college I went to who were very encouraging. The English teacher is one of the dedicatees (oh boy) of A LARK. I did not write anything that I or anyone else recognised as poetry for four or five years. After I graduated from college, my 4th, I went to work and poetry got lost in the shuffle. Not completely forgotten, but kept on a back burner.

I started the series of jobs--I have written of--truck diver, labourer, janitor, dishwasher, cook, moving man, machine shop operator, store clerk, substitute school teacher, security guard, roughneck (worked on an oil rig), census taker, gas station attendant, and some others--orange picker, bartender--done before I graduated college. Jobs that someone in America with a degree in liberal arts is deemed qualified for. Six years ago, after working for 9 years as an LNA (Licensed Nurses Assistant), I went back to college and got a license to work as an LPN (Licensed Practical Nurse) an occupation I am still practicing. Whew. That's a long list. Makes me tired thinking of it. The work has given me subjects or/and anecdotes to write. It is part of my story--everyone has a story. It is what we have--all we have--that is essentially our own. In my late 50s, and occasionally before, I started to put down, as I understood it, MY story.

Do I make things up? On rare occasions, yea, but more in the way of exaggerations than lies. I mean, the poem is not a transcription of so-called REAL life, but an act of creation. It can go wherever the mind takes it. I am not writing autobiography though I use my life experiences as a sort of foundation or template or buoy maybe, something to anchor the imaginary stuff to. I feel I am getting off track, if I was ever on one, and have no business explaining my work. I am mystified myself about how it comes out, knowing only that it is work and persistence, writing something everyday, not a poem, but something, and applying myself with a will--I am going to have to read the thing, as well as whomever, when it, the thing, comes out in print.

My heart operation at 58 did not prompt me to start writing agin--I had started about a year before with a do or die attitude, that it was time, now or never--I had figured myself for a prose writer and scholar and critic but was only 2nd or 3rd rate critic, scholar, prose writer...I finally found the FORM, poetry and exploited it. Previous to late 50's I was an artist but without a form. I did publish 2 books of criticism, essays, short stories, and book reviews (which I continue to write), because that was my idea of what I was supposed to do as a sort of "gentleman of literature" to which I aspired, and still do to a limited extent. Someone like Ford Madox Ford or W.D. Howells or even Edmund Wilson, who were arbiters of taste and could kick out reviews, essays, novels, what-have-you, at a moment's notice...Oh boy, I've really gone off the track now. Unsure how to get back on...Some guy using a chainsaw outside my window, really ripping into the wood...

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

New Release: John Yamrus/ Janne Karlsson As Real as Rain (Epic Rites Press, 2017) 80 pages


As Real as Rain is the American poet John Yamrus’s latest collection published through iconic Canadian small press Epic Rites Press. It features forty-five poems illustrated by Janne Karlsson, the Swedish artist and long-time collaborator of Yamrus.

The concept of this collection first emerged as a poetry reading at an Edmonton bar in 2013 encouraged by ERP editor & poet Wolfgang Carstens. On the night, Yamrus read his work over two 15 minute sets, and this book closely mirrors in a chronological fashion, most of the poems presented with a few exceptions.

Yamrus says coyly of the project, “the reading was at this really cool bar called Brittany's Lounge, a wild place with a little stage and seating area and a great big bar and glass windows that looked like any minute someone would get thrown through them, and if you looked hard enough maybe you'd find Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday sitting somewhere off in a dark corner, watching.
    
“the place was packed....they showed up late...but, they showed up, and there was an awful lot of them.  standing room only.  maybe some of them were drunks who just walked in off the street...i don't know, but the place was packed and we got them rocking...even the asshole in the far corner to my right, by the window, who kept saying something that i couldn't understand, but that was okay, too, because maybe i was saying things he couldn't understand, either.

“i loved it. i loved the fact that until just a couple of minutes before the reading there wasn't anybody in the place except for me and Wolf and Tracy Lee, who was nervous as hell, and she stayed at the bar, knocking back tequila to calm her nerves, while i walked around and Wolf stood out front handing out flyers to anyone who would stop and talk.”

(click on the illustration above to enlarge)

As part of the package, the purchaser of this book will receive a link to the original audio of John Yamrus’s 2013 reading. The quality of the sound is somewhat tinny but it clearly establishes the tone & the great variety of nuances of Yamrus’s understatement and his sarcastic, often scathing portraits of humanity.

Most of  the poems in the collection have been previously published in Yamrus’s earlier ERP books, doing cartwheels on doomsday afternoon (2010), can’t stop now! (2011), They Never Told Me This Would Happen (2012), BARK (2013) and ALCHEMY (2014) which have been comprehensively reviewed on Bold Monkey.

In a recent conversation with John Yamrus, he explained to me Janne Karlsson’s involvement in the project:

“as you well know, Janne and i had worked very well together in the past, but this was a very real opportunity to do it on a very large scale and take some very big chances.  

“as always, Janne's particular genius is in being able to mine new nuance and meaning from the poems...some i had intended, and some i never even knew were there! so, to a certain extent, the book was a learning and growing experience for the both of us...which, at the end of the day, is the goal of ALL art.

“hopefully the book reproduces the FEELINGS AND THOUGHTS that people experienced as part of the audience that night.”

     
The prolific artist Janne Karlsson told me today about the project:

"Illustrating John's poems is always a no-brainer. They kinda draw themselves. Another really cool aspect of it all, is (like our previous collaboration BURN) both he and I have this almost obstinate desire to let the reader/ viewer do 50 percent of the job. With this book we really give them hell. First, they'll have to meditate over John's writing and when/ if they get it, they'll have to move on to my artwork and "translate" that too. In short: there are 3 authors of ARAR; me, John, and the reader."

The title of the book derives from the poem “he looked at me and asked”. In the poem Yamrus is being interviewed on television by a presenter who is clearly hostile towards his minimalistic work. He sneeringly asks, “in your writing/ don’t you even care/ about musicality?” The poet is defiant, stares him down, confident in the realness of his art and flippantly dismisses the critic’s disdain.

The poem ends:

it was all
quite dramatic
and i enjoyed it.

there’s
something good
about being hated.

it’s
as real as rain.


(all illustrations have been reprinted with the permission of the poet, illustrator & publisher)

As Real as Rain is a beautiful coffee table sized book- 8 ¼ x 11 ¾ inches- and the largest published by Epic Rites Press. The front cover is also by artist Janne Karlsson and features a silhouette of the poet and a dog who appear to be closely observing each other in a moment of quiet reflection. This is an apt image as Yamrus is probably best known for his best-selling book Bark (Epic Rites Press) which collected many of his poems about his relationship to his many dogs over the years.

As Real as Rain is an important, original work which attempts to give poetry back to the people. It combines clear & real anecdotal poems with a live performance & cutting-edge illustrations.

As Yamrus surmises, “ a grand experiment, for sure!  did it work?  did it fail?  only the reader can decide.”

Purchase the book here: http://www.epicrites.org

Monday, July 3, 2017

Wolfgang's "Wolfgang didn't do his taxes on time and now..." annual sale



Recently received this urgent plea from Wolf Carstens from Epic Rites Press:

That’s right, my friends. Every year I do it, and every year I find myself pimping out books, broadsides, and freebies to make my mortgage payment. I had hoped this year would be different but...well, old dogs, new tricks...you know the story.

This year, I have another amazing package deal.

$50 USD nets you:
1 autographed copy of BULLETPROOF (Grey Borders Books, 2017)
1 autographed copy of RAISING THE DEAD (Svensk Apache Press, 2017)
1 autographed copy of TRASH AND ASH (Epic Rites Press, 2016)
1 autographed copy of RENTED MULE (Nightballet Press, 2015)

1 autographed copy of ONLY THE DEAD (Svensk Apache Press, 2015)
1 autographed copy of THE ABYSS GAZES ALSO (Epic Rites Press, 2013)

Every order includes limited edition broadsides, numbered and signed by yours truly:

Chris Cornell’s
Leonard Cohen
i used to believe
it’s not rocket science
i don’t write love poems

as well as:

i want my funeral” bookmark
FIVE POEMS, NO SMILE (Poems-For-All, 2015)
and “how to write poetry” (e.s.h Poetry Project, 2017) magnet,

Contents of package attached here as Jpeg. Just so you don’t get any crazy ideas (and don’t bother asking), no, the chair is NOT included in the order. 

So, there you have it: six books, five broadsides, booklet, bookmark, magnets, and anything else I can squeeze into the envelope. $50 USD, all inclusive.

Order here.

Now, even if you have one or more of these books, maybe you can kill your Christmas shopping early, or a birthday gift, or a “just because” present for someone who could use a little alphabet love.

All orders will ship in early July.

Any order is greatly appreciated. Please “share” with anyone you think might be interested in experiencing underground poetry as it was meant to be experienced: raw, honest, and charging forward like a wild beast.

Thank you, my friends.

—Wolfgang Carstens


New Release: Karina Bush 50 EUROS (BareBackPress, 2017) 98 pages


Chris Byck of 48th Street Press recently sent me the following info regarding Karina Bush's new poetry collection:

Blurb: The second book by Karina Bush, "50 EURO", has been released by BareBackPress. Set in the cum-soaked hole of Amsterdam's Red Light District,  "50 EURO" is a dark neon glimpse into the activities of those who enter and work these windows.  

"Karina Bush is a bright new talent. Keep your eye on her . . . she's one to watch." 
- James Frey, author of "A Million Little Pieces" and "Bright Shiny Morning".

"Karina's work transcends characterization as prose or poetry; she creates her own genre with lyrical flow, masterful form, and unrelenting originality." 
- Christopher Byck, 48th Street Press

For more about her work visit: