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Monday, May 8, 2017

Book Review/ Interview: Ron Lucas The Mother Goose Market (Lummox Press, San Pedro, 2017) 30 pages


This is the first poetry collection by Ron Lucas, the Fort Wayne, Indiana resident and former factory & warehouse labourer. There are twenty-two short, stripped back confessional poems in this book. The poetry typically slaps you hard across the face. Drags you by the hair. Chokes you. Puts your head in a burning stove- much like the personal childhood anecdotes that Lucas so harrowingly describes in his poems. We lie on the bed beside the young, fearful Lucas and listen through the thin walls of time to the sobs and “inhuman” screams of his mother as she is viciously bashed and raped and strangled by his father.

The poems appear to put into print actual events that took place perhaps forty years ago. In a recent interview with Ron Lucas (which appears in full at the end of this review), I asked him what prompted him to write and publish his work now:

“The first poem in the book was probably written in the ‘90’s. I think it was the only poem I’d ever written about my childhood until a couple of years ago. I don’t know why. Around 2014-2015 I found myself forced to be back in my father’s still repugnant presence quite a bit again. I didn’t witness any physical violence, but he still treated my mother, as well as the rest of the family, terribly. I think that probably inspired most of the poems by bringing back bad memories.

“I feel the work needs to be published now because he is still gas lighting and lying about it all. He still denies everything. I believe it is an ethical imperative to expose him. He has no right to take what he did to the grave with him. I sign copies with “Remember: Montaigne was right!”- a reference to Montaigne’s axiom that “One must either hate the vicious, or imitate them.”

In the aforementioned opening poem ‘ELEMENTARY EDUCATION’, we realise that Lucas does not make shit up. He writes about what “is going on in his life”. He tells us straight: “Fuck artifice!/ There are only/ Scars and scabs”:

ELEMENTARY EDUCATION

The willow
In the front yard
Hung its head
In shame-

Fuck artifice!

There are only
Scars and scabs
And those things
That will never be

Quite either.

Those things
That will neither be

Quiet ever.

The raging man
The wailing woman

Damn, how she could weep!

It is where I learned
The meaning of
The word

Where I learned
Everything
That

I know.

(reprinted with the permission of the author)

Later in the collection, we discover in the ironically titled poem ‘HAPPY FATHER’S DAY’, what Lucas has learned about life from his father: “To fear/ And/ To hate”.

These are poems of hate and bitterness. Lucas is unforgiving, venomous, ugly in spirit. He metaphorically compares his old man to the devil in some poems, such as ‘WAKING THE DEVIL’ and often directly addresses him. In ‘EIGHT’ the young Lucas listens to his mother sob on the other side of the wall and cries “Because/ You/ Were/ My father, and Because/ You/ Were breathing.” In ‘PILLOW TALK’ the father is depicted as a possessive, violent brut who uses death threats to keep his wife in line. Through the wall he hears his father whisper:

“If you ever
Try to leave,
I’ll kill you.
No matter where
You go,
I’ll find you, and
I’ll kill you.”

(A copy of ‘PILLOW TALK’ can be found here on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Mother-Goose-Market-Ron-Lucas/dp/0998458007

As outlined in the poem ‘LESS JACOB, MORE THE LATTER’, Lucas’s father later in life became a born again Christian and Lucas sarcastically quips that “He/ Has become a/ Much better person.” In the interview which follows, Lucas is scathing of this transformation:

“I don’t believe religion tends to change one’s personality so much as exacerbate it. If you were nice, you’ll be super sweet, like a sister of his. If you were an arrogant, overbearing ass, like him, you’ll become even more insufferable; and he has. He’s just living in a more populated area now where it’s more difficult to get away with actual physical violence. Please note, I say more difficult, perhaps not impossible. I don’t know. I don’t live there, and he always hid it pretty well before.

“He converted at approximately age 50, I think. He’d been diagnosed with some benign colon polyps and freaked out. He couldn’t sleep, or even eat (a BOLD statement for him) for days. Then, one night, Jesus, Himself, glowing like a firefly, showed up in his bedroom and threatened him with eternal Hellfire and damnation. I should have probably mentioned that he is a lifelong, diagnosed, untreated schizophrenic. But, don’t worry, he says J.C. cured him of that the night of His Divine home invasion (laughs).”

In one of the best poems in the collection ‘Rescission’ (literally meaning the unmaking of a contract between parties), Lucas addresses the old man in a tone of personal disgust and horror:

RESCISSION

You may be
Saved,
But
You are not
Forgiven.
I don’t give
A damn
What your God
Tells you.
I have built
You your
Very own personal
Burning Hell,
Here;
Inside my
Skull.

(reprinted with the permission of the author)

Although this small book is not arranged in sections, it has two main parts. The first are Lucas’s childhood recollections of domestic violence (pages 6-16). The descriptions of abuse are brutal and rip a hole in your gut, but can be somewhat repetitive at times. ‘GREENDALE’, ‘BRUT 33’, ‘EIGHT’ and ‘CAP’N CRUNCH’ are simple but highly disturbing poems of wife bashing and emotional abuse.

Asked about the consequences of his childhood experiences, Lucas is candid in the listing of his various mental conditions:

“The official diagnoses of those consequences are: anxiety disorder, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, mysophobia, mild psychosis, and various and sundry other assorted neuroses. There was also nearly 30 years of self-medicating with daily drug and alcohol abuse (from about the age of 15) and 10 years of opioid addiction. It’s been fun (laughs). I’m told (laughs again). I only know about much of my life second hand. Actually, that all, of course, caused a lot of problems.” 

The second part is written from Lucas’s present perspective and essentially charts the ragged path to his healing process through the “liberation of vengeance” (‘JUBILEE’) of writing poems about what he has witnessed as a child (pages 17-28). In ‘COLD DISH’ he openly declares his personal war against the old man:

I
Saw
Everything.
And,
I
Am
Telling
Everyone.

In the poem ‘A CHILD’S EYES’ he addresses his father, both of whom are now old men. He says he needs “no/ Confessions/ of you” and evokes the Old Testament (Deuteronomy 19:15):

You
Have been
Convicted for
Years,
In
Accordance
With prescribed
Biblical
Law:
Two witnesses.

‘GRAPEVINE’, ‘LESS JACOB, MORE THE LATTER’, ‘HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY, PERSEHONE’, ‘ORPHEUS IN NEED OF THERAPY’ and ‘BIRTHDAY WISHES FOR YOU (OCT.24th’15) are other significant poems in this section.

‘GRAPEVINE’ is the only previously published poem in the collection and can be found here on poeticdiversity: http://www.poeticdiversity.org/main/poets2.php?nameCode=RonLucas

 Asked how he is fairing now, Ron Lucas is upbeat, optimistic:

“Other than my emotional issues, which I now have meds and Doctors for (since I have healthcare for the first time in my life) and some physical health issues, all of which, as well as my drinking (I kicked the opioids in 2011), seem to be under control, I’m doing pretty well. I have the love of my 2 grown daughters and my mother. My 3 year old granddaughter’s growing on me like an adorable little fungus. I’m getting poems published. Hell, I even got a book of poems published.”

The front cover was designed by Chris Yeseta of Lummox Press and features an old black & white photo of the Mother Goose Market which is alluded to in the poem ‘1. BALONEY 2. BREAD 3. CEREAL 4. MILK’. Mother Goose is usually associated with affable childhood nursery rhymes but in Lucas’s hands it takes on sinister connotations. The speaker of the poem, Lucas, recalls a childhood incident in which he was sent to the Mother Goose Market to buy some basic grocery items. He stuffs up the order and in retribution, his father beats up his mother again. The boy is guilt-ridden and runs to his grandmother. His father, infant like, cries in her arms as she gently soothes him. The poem concludes wryly:

He
Never
Sent me to
The Mother Goose
Market
Again.

Asked why he dedicated his book to his father, Lucas tersely explains, “Sadism (laughs). Given the content, I thought it’d be a nice extra turn of the knife. I love that the book basically came out on the Ides of March. Hate to be a dick and all. But I am. So I will. It’s hereditary (laughs again).”

The Mother Goose Market is a short but powerful indictment of domestic violence. Lucas doesn’t attempt to explain his father’s vile behaviour, he merely reveals incidents which have haunted him in a series of pared back, matter-of-fact poems. You enter Lucas’s personal hell which still “burns” brightly in his head after four decades. In view of the dysfunctional subject matter, I wouldn’t say I enjoyed reading this book, but you have to admire Ron Lucas’s courage in coming out and exposing the crimes of his childhood, in which some of us are capable of or might fall prey to.

INTERVIEW WITH RON LUCAS 6-7 MAY 2017

You have been writing and publishing for decades but this is your first book. Where have you published previously? Has your writing changed much over the years?

I never attempted to get a book published before. I never dreamed that I would. I always assumed I’d be leaving my daughters a, hopefully large, unwieldy stack of dusty, small press mags in the corner of some closet when I died.

I’ve published, over the years, in the first LAST CALL anthology, DUFUS, STAPLEGUN PRESS. The DRAFT SPECIALS anthology, the DOPE anthology, quite a lot at REMARK., and various other places. More recently, I’ve appeared in the LUMMOX 5 anthology, POETICDIVERSITY, DISSIDENT VOICE, etc.

I tend to write about what is going on in my life and/or my emotional life, so my writing has probably changed more in content than style as I’ve aged and my life has changed. That said, I do hope I’ve gotten better (laughs).

Many of the events you describe in your collection appear to have happened about forty years ago. When did you write the poems in the book?
What prompted you to publish this work now?

The first poem in the book was probably written in the ‘90’s. I think it was the only poem I’d ever written about my childhood until a couple of years ago. I don’t know why. Around 2014-2015 I found myself forced to be back in my father’s still repugnant presence quite a bit again. I didn’t witness any physical violence, but he still treated my mother, as well as the rest of the family, terribly. I think that probably inspired most of the poems by bringing back bad memories.

I feel the work needs to be published now because he is still gas lighting and lying about it all. He still denies everything. I believe it is an ethical imperative to expose him. He has no right to take what he did to the grave with him. I sign copies with “Remember: Montaigne was right!”, a reference to Montaigne’s axiom that “One must either hate the vicious, or imitate them.”   

Considering the domestic violence inflicted on your family by your father, why did you dedicate the book to him?

Sadism (laughs). Given the content, I thought it’d be a nice extra turn of the knife. I love that the book basically came out on the Ides of March. Hate to be a dick and all. But I am. So I will. It’s hereditary (laughs again).

Who designed the front cover and what is its significance? I note that the poem ‘1. BALONEY 2. BREAD 3. CEREAL 4. MILK’ refers to your shopping trip to the Mother Goose Market.

Chris, at  LUMMOX, did the wonderful design work. I’m so thrilled with the work they did on the book! I chose the cover photo because, yes, that experience from ‘1.BALONEY…’ profoundly affected me, but also just because that old architectural oddity of a market is such a powerfully evocative symbol of that time and place for me.

I take it the events you describe in your book actually happened. If so, how long did your father’s drunken, abusive behaviour last and how was your mother able to hang on and continue the relationship?

Oh, he wasn’t drunk. He’s a lifelong teetotaller. He did it all stone cold sober. He was never out of control either. He guarded his reputation very carefully and most jealously. He hid it all. My mother is one of the very few women I grew up around whom I’ve never seen with a black eye.

She didn’t exactly stay. She always swore, behind his back, she’d split when I turned 18, and she did. She got her first job, car, and driver’s license at 40. When I saw her again a few months later, she looked 10 years younger. But, unfortunately, she took the bastard back.

You depict a violent, highly dysfunctional family. Did you have any other siblings? What was your grandmother’s relationship to your father? Your grandfather’s influence?

There were no other witnesses. I am an only child.

I loved my grandma, but she, as she can still be seen doing in the book, in her own words, “…spoiled him rotten… “ and “…petted him…”. She always blamed herself. I always blamed myself, as a child. I Think it’s common for abuse victims to blame themselves.

My grandfather’s influence was, as described, one of abuse and violence. My great grandfather was the same, as was my maternal grandfather. I knew them all 3 well; monsters all. My maternal grandfather blackened my grandma’s eyes shortly before the sonofabitch finally did the right thing for once: died.

In some of the poems you directly address your father? Why do you use this technique?

I suppose it’s just the literary equivalent of that thing where you stand in front of a mirror and practice telling a bully off, knowing you’ll never actually have the courage to do it (laughs). Except, I suppose I have now, haven’t I, after a fashion anyway (laughs again).

In ‘Cap’N Crunch’ and ‘Whipping Boy’ you express guilt because your mother shielded you from your father’s violence and copped it instead. Did your father have any redeeming features? Can you describe the life long consequences of the domestic violence you experienced as a child?

Of course he did. Humans are too complex for anyone to be a total caricature of a complete cartoon villain. When I was very young he taught me to draw. He taught me to tie my shoes. Okay, that one was kind of terrible too (laughs). But he used to paint when I was little. He did 2 horse paintings for me that I kept on my childhood bedroom wall. He also went about, in his rare better moods, extemporaneously singing, shall we say, adult song parodies. I still do it constantly, much to the delight, I’m sure, of my neighbours (laughs).

The official diagnoses of those consequences are: anxiety disorder, depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, mysophobia, mild psychosis, and various and sundry other assorted neuroses. There was also nearly 30 years of self-medicating with daily drug and alcohol abuse (from about the age of 15) and 10 years of opioid addiction. It’s been fun (laughs). I’m told (laughs again). I only know about much of my life second hand. Actually, that all, of course, caused a lot of problems. 

You see God as blind in ‘Cold Dish’ and compare your father with the devil in ‘Waking the Devil’ and other poems. In some of the last poems in the collection, such as ‘Less Jacob, More the Latter’ as a much older man your father has become a “born again Christian” and “a much better person”. How do you now view this transformation? Why did he convert? How old was he?

I’m an agnostic. I use such terms as “God” and “Devil” strictly as metaphors. I say he has become a “much better person” very sarcastically and ironically. I don’t believe religion tends to change one’s personality so much as exacerbate it. If you were nice, you’ll be super sweet, like a sister of his. If you were an arrogant, overbearing ass, like him, you’ll become even more insufferable; and he has. He’s just living in a more populated area now where it’s more difficult to get away with actual physical violence. Please note, I say more difficult, perhaps not impossible. I don’t know. I don’t live there, and he always hid it pretty well before.

He converted at approximately age 50, I think. He’d been diagnosed with some benign colon polyps and freaked out. He couldn’t sleep, or even eat (a BOLD statement for him) for days. Then, one night, Jesus, Himself, glowing like a firefly, showed up in his bedroom and threatened him with eternal Hellfire and damnation. I should have probably mentioned that he is a lifelong, diagnosed, untreated schizophrenic. But, don’t worry, he says J.C. cured him of that the night of His Divine home invasion (laughs).

You refer to your grandfather’s abusiveness in ‘Whipping Boy’ which your father later learnt to use. In ‘Jubilee’ you mention that “Blue eyes/ Run in/ The family” but say that you are determined that your life’s work “To be the / Liberation/ Of / Vengeance.” How have you faired so far?

I always say a poem is an emotional snapshot in time. It is just how one feels at that moment, not necessarily philosophy. I really only wrote that about vengeance in, maybe, 2014. It was just a feeling.  But, other than my emotional issues, which I now have meds and Doctors for (since I have healthcare for the first time in my life) and some physical health issues, all of which, as well as my drinking (I kicked the opioids in 2011), seem to be under control, I’m doing pretty well. I have the love of my 2 grown daughters and my mother. My 3 year old granddaughter’s growing on me like an adorable little fungus. I’m getting poems published. Hell, I even got a book of poems published. And some cool blog in Australia’s even reviewing it AND interviewing me! How cool is that?!

What do you want your reader to take away from your book?

A general, powerful revulsion to domestic violence. One might say, a violent reaction against violence, in general. Oh, and a shared hatred of my father (laughs). One need not know him. He doesn’t need to know entire large groups of people to hate them all. Come on in. The water’s nice; aflame, but nice (laughs again). 

Thanks for taking the time Ron!

Thank you, very much, for the opportunity George!

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