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Welcome Distractions- Accessible Poems for Time Strapped Humans by Carol Wierzbicki

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By g emil reutter
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The first time I read a poem by Carol Wierzbicki was in the Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.  Wierzbicki was part of the Unbearables with Thad Rutkowski, Hal Sirowitz and many other poets, who at the time were were active in challenging the established literary elites and elites in general. Unlike many movements, the Unbearables continue. In the case of Wierzbicki, she has released an excellent collection of poetry. Welcome Distractions – Accessible Poems for Time-Strapped Humans. Fittingly the book is part of the Unbearable Series published by Autonomedia. In these unadorned beautifully written poems Wierzbicki writes of poets, politics, her beloved Brooklyn and much more. In the second stanza of Ode to Brooklyn she captures pre-millennial Brooklyn.
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You, with your rusting smokestacks,
your vigilante block associations,
chain-smoking beauty salon owners and patrons,
over the top Christmas displays crowding your
postage stamp-sized front lawns,
marketing slogans that breed like flies
your brass-knuckle childhoods,
your forsythia stubbornly flourishing
beside the grimiest warehouses,
your incongruously ultramodern gas stations
your overpasses and viaducts,
a thousand negative spaces for neighborhood kids
to unfurl their evil games,
lawnmowers, awnings your thwarted attempts
at upscale suburbia.
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These images stay with the reader as a photograph in words, intense realism.

In the poem Champion Cat Breeder, Wierzbicki shows her humorous side in reflecting on poets.

“So you’re big in the poetry world/Who Cares?/ It’s like being a champion cat breeder/ You move in weird, fussy/ little circles/ where ego’s erupt like cat-spit …”

Wierzbicki takes on the elites in the poem, My Apology to Saks 5th Ave. In the second stanza she writes:

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I don’t deserve to be here
I feel out of place
wandering among your white walls
and shiny black shelves
and unforgiving light
and angular salespeople.
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And again in the fourth stanza:
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…My guilt at being here cuts both ways:
I don’t earn enough money to shop here,
but I can still browse the sale racks
to comfortable anonymity;
no security personnel
will suddenly appear alongside me,
grabbing my thin, lily-white wrist.
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She ends the poem, Unincorporated Township, in beautifully unadorned verse with images that once again stay with the reader.
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The town hall stands unfinished
over earth that is brown and cracked
to match radon-soaked brick
of the hastily knocked-up dwellings
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The snow that falls here
turns beige on contact
and the people that die here
do so in midsentence.
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Wierzbicki writes poems of love, family, neighborhood, injustice. She reflects about the times we live in the poem Age:
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We’re living in a disposable age, a polemical age, a laughable
age, a tragical age, a changeable age. An age of individuality that
curls back toward conformity like a snake eating its tail. A digital
age of tweets and posts and texts and yet an age where we crave
face-to-face contact. It’s an age of excess and yet not having
enough. An age of hate and yet of radical love cradling the hated ones.
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It’s an age of extreme weather: fires, floods, tornados,
hurricanes and intensely beautiful days. An age of jealously
guarded privacy and unprecedented surveillance. An age of
space travel and deep drilling. Of discovery and discovering
how little we actually know. Of unstoppable development and
naturally reclaimed land, flowers blooming above sludge.
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A paradoxical age of rural lifestyle movements within cities:
beehives and tomato plants on rooftops, crops of corn and herbs
in parking lots – where we’re both locavore and globally
connected. An age where the city has no future and IS the future.
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Where we all speak different languages and yet push the same
buttons.
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If you are a lover of poetry, of realism, of intense rhythmic poetry you should pick up a copy of Welcome Distractions- Accessible Poems for Time Strapped Humans.

You can find the book here:

https://bookstore.autonomedia.org/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=75_71_22&products_id=779

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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. He can be found here: https://gereutter.wordpress.com/about/ 

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Long Day, Counting Tomorrow by Jim Feast

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By Thaddeus Rutkowski

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Jim Feast’s new novel, Long Day, Counting Tomorrow (Unbearables Books/Autonomedia), is basically a murder mystery, told in brief, nonsequential chapters identified by date. Set during the HIV/AIDS crisis in the fall of 1998, the story follows Raskin Trask, a former drug user (and Wall Streeter) who is undergoing treatment for the virus. Though Rask is not gay, he gets involved in the politics of gay rights—demonstrating, for example, with the group ACT UP. At a crucial point, Rask suspects something is up with the doctor who manages the treatment in a hospice for a AIDS patients. When Rask’s roommate dies of questionable causes, Rask realizes he could be next. He works to get evidence that will implicate the doctor in charge.

Around this storyline, the author (who wrote the book with the editorial assistance of Carol Wierzbicki) brings in a number of other characters, some more important than others. Rask is a member of a downtown New York group called the Neo Phobes, and many of his fellow phobes cross paths and socialize with him. One of the more interesting of these people is the radio personality Mac, who works at the station WPHEW. Mac is described this way:

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There was something about his libido, something that both got him into bad fixes (like the one-nighter that cost him his marriage) and into some of the most indefinably sweet moments of his existence. … More than once, he’d met someone at a party and, locked in the toilet, used the shag rug for … shagging.

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This description of Mac reminds us that there was a time—in the ’90s—when urban youths didn’t think much about risky behavior or the need for recovery from such behavior. It was OK to “wang chung” all night.

Elsewhere, Feast brings us deep into the world of AIDs treatment centers. Here, Rask meets his new roommate in the infirmary, Yardley Chu:

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Five or six bodies—not people, department store dummies—were grouped around one of the beds. … Rask went to the covered shape on the bed to introduce himself, but then stopped in surprise, jerking his head to the left. What he took to be Chu was a seventh dummy, prone on the bed. His new roommate sat beyond the bed in a wheelchair. Hanging over the back of his chair was a minor poet Rask had seen hanging around Mac.

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At first, I took this scene as an example of surrealism, without a realistic corollary. Why would mannequins be set up in and around a hospital bed? It seemed a metaphorical comment on the impersonal nature of hospitals. There is no flesh and blood here. The live person is “beyond the bed,” in a wheelchair. Then, on second thought, I saw the situation as Yardley Chu’s attempt to physically hide from those in power, from the staffers who can—and will—do him in.

There are a number of subplots in this novel—having to do with drug dealing, corporate spying, file stealing—that add to the atmosphere of shadowy doings and hidden motivations. To say that all is explained by the end might be an overstatement. Long Day, after all, is only the second installment in the Neo Phobe Trilogy (the first volume is titled Neo Phobe). The forthcoming third volume promises to provide more excitement, more details, and more answers.

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You can find the book here: https://www.akpress.org/long-day-counting-tomorrow.html?___SID=U

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Thaddeus Rutkowski is the author of five books of prose. Haywire won the Members’ Choice Award, given by the Asian American Writers Workshop. He teaches at Sarah Lawrence College, Medgar Evers College and the Writer’s Voice of the West Side YMCA in New York. He received a fiction writing fellowship from the New York Foundation for the Arts.

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