reviews

The Tiger in the Grass by Harriet Doerr

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By Ray Greenblatt

Introduction

          Harriet Doerr (1910-2002) grew up and married in California. For nearly twenty years she and her husband ran a mining company in Mexico. In 1984 at the age of 74 she published her first book Stones for Ibarra, which won the National Book Award. Her third and final book, a collection of short stories, The Tiger in the Grass was published in 1995. This review will be a discussion of how effectively she developed setting and character and the essence of her philosophy after such a long and fruitful life. And she used poetic prose to accomplish that.

California

In the story LIKE HEAVEN the major character Elizabeth has returned to a town she had summered in for years. She wondered if her memories matched the reality of the place. “Beyond Elizabeth, the pink stucco post office was closing for the night. A border of nasturtiums erupted against its side in hot reds and lemon yellows, the intense shades that figure more often in memory than in fact. Elizabeth turned to face the ocean.” Doerr’s use of color is always vivid and varied, often using flowers to represent a particular hue.

“Life on the hill had not been flawless. Elizabeth vaguely recalled the occasional tears of children and slammings of adult doors. But the immense peace of the place drowned out these events, leaving only a shimmering calm behind. Under its protection, summer days could scarcely be told apart and ran together. So that, even while being lived, they had seemed eternal.”

Mexico

Mexico plays an important role in Doerr’s life and writing. In the story THE SEASONS now in Mexico, color again plays a major role. “Yellow is the color of fall. The cottonwoods burn with it, and only flowers that are yellow go on blooming. At the edges of fields, against unmortared stone boundaries, in roadside ditches, grow all the wild daisies in the world.”

Sudden though infrequent storms punctuate the landscape. “When there is a storm, the thunder rolls up the mountain and down the cobbled street. It stifles the backfire of the passing truck and silences the church bell ringing for vespers. It mutters imprecations in the distance.”

“The lightning forks into an ash tree, into the windmill tower, and finally into the transformer, causing a power failure that may last all night. In the flash there is a second’s eternity of total exposure, the plow left in the furrow, the dented pot on the fire, the woman’s face in the cracked mirror.”

One Character

Some women in these stories are angry and depressed because they have not found who they really are, or in trying to live through their husbands the wives always come up short. Doerr can be very insightful focusing on one individual. In CARNATIONS Ann “lives with herself. They no longer speak. She can’t remember being shut away. Life, like a subway train, simply began to recede, taking the people she knew out of earshot. Either they have stopped listening or she has forgotten the words. In the case of Elliot, her husband, she is out of sight and sound. His eyes focus behind her and his voice is directed to one side. His arms do not reach through the unseen walls.”

On a car trip through Italy with her husband she sees a flower seller who becomes a symbol of what she desires. “Ann supposes that their fragrance hangs about him like incense. He is hatless and wears sandals. They are about to pass him. She hasn’t had time to say ‘Stop.’

Then, in an impact as clear and sudden as the clash of cymbals, Ann’s eyes meet the eyes of the vendor. Their smiles meet and fuse. The second is held in timeless suspension, like a raindrop on a spiderweb.

His arms, lifting the carnations like lanterns, are open in an encompassing embrace. They hold the terraced vineyards and the twisted pines, they hold the marble figures in the tapestried palace walls, the tile on hillside houses and the stone on Roman roads.” This man is so much a Christ figure; and the brilliant flowers again are so important.

Characters

Doerr is also effective at handling multiple characters.  The story THE EXTINGUISHING OF GREAT-AUNT ALICE offers us several. “Weeping. It seemed chronic rather than acute, a way of life rather than a trauma.” Alice is old and sad but still retains a vigorous imagination. She shares “the same crystal vision” with her great-niece, eleven-year-old Elizabeth.

“Elizabeth brought strange maps she had drawn of India, France, and Peru, striped with rivers, crocheted with mountains, shaded with forests, dotted with wheat, rice, and corn, red-circled with capitals, and all bounded by shores of a thousand parentheses.”

We meet a kaleidoscope of people, old and young and in between. Alice’s middle-aged son Theo has not found himself and is trying to fit in socially. “He had made a thorough search of the anniversary classes and encountered only eight alumni of his year, all so altered by time and varying levels of despair that none recognized the others.”

Among these uncertain souls stands a solid citizen. “The driver of the station wagon wore thick brown-rimmed glasses and a lime-green pantsuit. She had planted both feet on the ground when she was one and a half, and an aura of common sense hung about her like the aroma of wholesome food. Today she had realized at once that she must pilot the rudderless into safe waters, and set off with purpose and without surprise.” A few strokes by a skilled writer fully rounds a character.

Mexicans

Some Mexican characters are distant as in the story WAY STATIONS.  “There was something in the old woman’s blackbird eyes, something about her slippered feet set parallel on the floor, that discouraged intimacy.”

Others are more outgoing as in SUN, PURE AIR, AND A VIEW. “’Consider this, senora,’ Carlos said, and from the edge of the terrace where they stood, he embraced the landscape, drawing to him the municipality of Santa Felicia, the presidencia, the cathedral, and the zoo, as well as all the plowed and wooded world beyond.”

And in what I think is the most shocking story in the collection, ironically SAINT’S DAY, we see tragic individuals. “Remembering the annoyances that have plagued his life, along with the great injustices, he allows rage to possess him, lets it burn hot and blind and pure, until at last he strikes the back of the bench and bloodies his good hand.”

His wife has been traumatized to near immobility. When her son Paco asks her for help, “she neither looked at him nor moved from where she sat on

the edge of the bed, her elbows on her knees, her thin fingers pressed to her eyes, rocking back and forth, as if the rocking itself might serve for something. As if it, more than tears, might speak for her.”

Paco is still a fanciful little boy. Strangely he reminds me of the little boy from John Updike’s short story You’ll Never Know, Dear, How Much I Love You. Both boys love the thrill of the carnival. However, Updike’s character has the entire world ahead of him to look forward to. Paco is from a distressed environment without much hope for the future. His immediate goal is to ride on the carousel. “Now, for five minutes, Paco is a child without past. This interval contains his whole life. So his day ends almost as he had planned, riding a horse to music under stars.” Meanwhile, his sister is being raped by the father.

Philosophy

So many of these stories, and so many of these events that I believe actually happened to Harriet Doerr are involved with memories. Her five senses enable her to call up actions that occurred seventy-five years before. She remembers the walls of their house from A SLEEVE OF RAIN. “You knew them best by touching them, by moving along the half-finished wall, your hand sliding from one rough surface to the next. Dry, hard, complex, indifferent, they were the fiber of your world.”

She claims that she does not clearly know why these memories are dear to her, but I can guess that they recall when her family was close and solid.” Years later and possessing at last the long view, I cannot say whether I touched the wood to claim the house, to establish a connection, or simply for the sake of the shingles themselves, to feel their texture, to smell forest.”

It is an extreme advantage for a writer to have such vivid recall, especially of such positive moments in one’s life.  From LOW TIDE AT FOUR: “Back on the beach, our heads under the umbrella, we lie at compass points like a four-pointed star. The sun hangs hot and high. Small gusts of wind lift the children’s corn-straw hair. We taste salt. Face down, arms wide, we cling to the revolving earth.”

The child sometimes feels the center of the universe, but an author can achieve great power of creativity with this feeling. “I call up my interior reserves and gather strength from my blood and bones. Exerting the full force of my will, I command the earth to leave off circling long enough to hold up the sun, hold back the wave. Long enough for me to paint and frame low tide.”

Conclusion

Harriet Doerr facetiously states that in a writing class she took “all we wanted was the perfect word in the perfect sentence that, when multiplied, would fill the pages of the perfect book.” It is what all writers hope. A symbol for her was THE TIGER IN THE GRASS.  A writer must persist through all uncertainties, all fears to achieve the best writing that she can. “I think of what it is like to write stories. It is a completion. It is discovering something you didn’t know you’d lost. It is finding an answer to a question you never asked.” Through her writing Harriet Doerr found her true self. Considering her style I am surprised that she never wrote poetry.

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Tiger-Grass-Stories-Other-Inventions/dp/0140251480

Ray Greenblatt is an editor on the Schuylkill Valley Journal. His book reviews have been published by a variety of periodicals: BookMark Quarterly, Joseph Conrad Today, English Journal, the Dylan Thomas Society, and the John Updike Society. His new book of poetry, Nocturne & Aubades, is newly available from Parnilis Press, 2018.

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Shoot the Messenger

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Review by g emil reutter
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The evolution of the poet John Dorsey continues in this, his 50th book of poetry. Dorsey writes of the heartland of America and the forgotten characters. In this collection there are no small ponds/just forgotten rivers of intention/just stolen kisses/captured in the night. He writes of The Prettiest Girl in Moscow, Kansas, pumps gas with a farmer’s bicep/and sells off-brand energy drinks 2 for $4/ tallying the state tax/to determine her own worth. In the poem, Don’t Flip the Boat he writes of a Hell’s Angel looking for an insurance claim. the fire of youth/an old tire/left hanging from a tree/that has been burning/ since he was a boy. he says there’s wisdom/ in these hills. he just can’t remember where he buried it.
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A poet who writes for the disenfranchised, Dorsey gives us, The Years We Remained Anonymous
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waiting for history to moan our names
to carve our initials into a tree
that we can no longer find
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the moonlight is no longer happy
just touching the skin of generations
& the road back home
is muddy with blood
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there is very little peace
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in any of it.
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Dorsey remains at the heart of the modern Meat Poetry scene also known as the Outlaw Poetry Movement. He writes of smoking joints outside a convenience store, of a town with no roosters, of an addict and his needle, of old men wrestling with their youth, of learning to shoot, of rabid dogs and of family. And of Sadie – she has never danced backward/in the mouth of oceans/while piecing together the remains/ of her tattered heart. her stars still shine through cheap beer/and well whisky/the highway feels limitless/and the music in her heart seems free. He writes of his grandmother in Home Cooking and a problem with food poisoning- and my grandfather would ask without fail/”what’s the matter, don’t you like your grandmother’s cooking?”/i guess it was a fair question/after all, she left a lot of sweat/ on that counter.
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In this collection he put his mark on Meat Poetry, an evolved style of raw and imagery such as this from Poem for My Parents- i remind her/that we are running out of time/that every moment of silence/is another wrinkle on our face/another memory/to hang our bones on. There is a rawness such as this from The Rainbow Family Would Never Have You – just before sundown/we wandered through the side streets/of your heart/ in search of adam’s rib/ our lips smacking/ as we wiped our sticky fingers/on the marrow of dusk.
 
County Route 705
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is full of ghost stories
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faded yearbook photos
of dreams that died
on loose gravel
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the sun shining
on our failures
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just hanging there
like a rusty hubcap
nailed to the cross
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Dorsey has given us a collection of poems, of characters of the heartland who live the hard life, who dream, who take the hits and keep getting up. The bonus in this collection are the beautiful images provided by the artist by Greg Edmondson. In his very Dorsey way, Shoot the Messenger, opens the window for others to understand and feel the struggle in the heartland.
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You can find the book here: Shoot the Messenger – John Dorsey
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

The Matter of Empire – Metaphysics and Mining in Colonial Peru

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.Review by g emil reutter

Orlando Bentancor brings us The Matter of Empire- Metaphysics and Mining in Colonial Peru at a time when the world is once again ignoring history, a history Bentancor brings to life in this excellent book on the conquest of the America’s by Spain. The philosophy of Francisco de Victoria rooted in Aristotelianism and Thomism. It is to Victoria that the Spanish crown turned to justify the conquest of the America’s and the treatment of the “Amerindians”.  Victoria a founder of the School of Salamanca  developed the philosophy of just war, freedom of commerce and the seas rooted in the belief of globalization and natural subordination. This is relevant in today’s world as the nations of the earth engage in globalization today on scale that Victoria who wrote in the 1500’s could only imagine.

Bentancor writes in great detail the emerging philosophy of Victoria that justified the rights of Spain to mine for gold and silver in South America in spite of any indigenous opposition. Victoria used Aristotle’s natural law, or natural subordination that people are born to lead or born to serve as the justification in the use of indigenous peoples to be forced to work in the mines as a right of Spain to free commerce. It was the right of Spain to impose its religion on the indigenous people, to mine their land and if resisted to conquer their territory in just war as a right of a superior people to impose their will on inferiors if resisted or attacked. Victoria rooted his theories in the western thought developed by Aristotelianism and Thomism. He used the foundation of Scholasticism and corrupted the teachings and philosophy of Thomas Aquinas as the basis for the brutal slaughter and enslavement of indigenous peoples during the Spanish conquest and globalization.

Natural subordination led to the great violence of the last millennium and millions of lost lives. Not only used by western culture but cultures around the globe to justify war, violence, slavery and man’s inhumanity to man no matter what mask it wears. In the beginning of this new millennium we continue to see the imposition of religious intolerance and suppression of people who are not in agreement with those who desire to impose their will on them, the forced global economy on the peoples of the world.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.upress.pitt.edu/BookDetails.aspx?bookId=36661

 

Submissions Open For National Poetry Month

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Submissions are open until March  31st for our April issue. It will be National Poetry Month and if you have that book you love or that has moved you and desire to review it, send it along for consideration of publication. Essays and commentary are also welcome.

Submissions:

Submissions of book reviews, essays, and commentary are welcome. Send your submission for consideration of publication in word doc with any images or photographs attached , Include a brief bio. All submissions are to be sent to:  sahmsguarnieriandreutter@gmail.com  Please note in the subject line of the email- submission- your name. Our response time should be less than two weeks.

The Absent

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Review by g emil reutter

 

Rosalind Palermo Stevenson’s, The Absent, brings the reader on a forty nine year journey of the life of William Wright Martin. Stevenson’s research is outstanding as the book begins and ends in Philadelphia during the late 1800s with stops in the Wild West and Southwest territories of the United States. Martin and his wife Lucie are photographers, have their own studio yet live with his mother and aunt. Lucie and William are obsessed with the art. Lucie with portraits and what the images she creates reveal about people, he with structures and space.

…what silence speaks of…there is that apt gesture of silence, the hand closed in a gentle fist, the index finger raised and placed over the lips. It’s silly to stand there, the voice says, when you can lie down and rest. Yes rest. Enough time has passed—too many days. How many. Do you remember? You look worn. You look tired. It’s time. You agree that it’s time don’t you? 

As a child, William Martin and his mother are taken west from Philadelphia by his father. There at a young age he is being taught to be man by his rough and tough father although the mother is always protective. His father hears danger and throws the boy into the bushes where Martin witnesses the brutal slaying of his father by a gang of men. His mother brings him home to Philadelphia and his life begins again. He matures into a man who lives two lives, one in the reality of who he is and the other dominated by hauntings of what he has seen. Sleep evades him although he and Lucie are close in their marriage there are somethings, as the author says, you don’t share. They work in a studio where Lucie spends most of her time as he walks and photographs Philadelphia. They spend the off time at their mother’s house where Aunt Lavina also lives. Spiritualism and bird watching dominate the house. Suddenly his marriage is broke asunder, he is at a loss for Lucie is gone. He is there but is not. A haunted man, Martin makes seamless transitions from his real life to his dream state while awake or asleep. Martin is a man of tragedy who listens to the voices that haunt him.

Stevenson has a unique ability to develop the supporting cast in this work. The ever present mother and aunt, The Fell family who work at the studio and the interactions the complex Martin has with others in Philadelphia. During his mourning for the broken marriage he travels to the Mid-West on a photographic journey to the place his father was murdered. Stevenson provides a wide cast of supporting characters both in his journey to the Mid-West and again when he is surveying the Southwest. Native Americans, cowboys, hunters even a hermaphrodite who Martin oddly bonds with. New hauntings come to him, yet when he is returning to Philadelphia from his first trip to the Mid-West he meets Dr. Stiles and his daughter Angeline at the depot. The three travel to Philadelphia on the train as the civil war breaks out. Fell continues to manage the studio and over time his daughter Lucie is assisting him. A courtship begins between Angeline and William and they soon marry and live with Dr. Stiles. The couple remain childless and the ever patient Angeline lives with his love of the ever present first wife, Lucie, in his mind. She accepts his long term physical absence from her during his trips and walks about the city, although they as a couple also walk and go on carriage rides. There is a closeness between the two that is as bonding as is the absence.

You look worn. You look tired. It’s time. You agree that it’s time don’t you? 

Martin is a photographer of the era, always aware of the light and shadows. In The Absent, Stevenson has provided the reader with images of lights and shadows, of loss and love, of violence and peace. Of the complex nature of the mind and relationships. All of the characters come to life from the page in vivid detail in the haunted mind and life of William Wright Martin.

You can find the book here: http://rainmountainpress.com/books41.html

g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

 

 

Spirit Boxing

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Review by g emil reutter

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There is a richness in American poetry that traces its roots from Levine to Sandburg to Whitman. Poetry rooted in the American spirit, the working class, the knowing of who we are and where we come from. In that chain that links poets to the barbaric yawp of Whitman we can add Afaa Michael Weaver as the next link. Weaver writes poetry that is spiritual yet rooted in realism, the passion for life that is missing from many modern poets who embrace disconnect. From the first stanza of Preachers:

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Worked in the steel mills, black men

from Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia

studying the way God whispered

in the hot air of the coke oven, how

the saints waved the smoke rising

up over Baltimore harbor, a pastiche

announcing the hope of generations.

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…God whispered/in the hot air of the coke oven 

This is not an imagined image, Weaver lived it, saw it, wrote it down. God whispering to the men and women who tended the coke ovens, popped lids, saw the vapers felt the intense heat. These are the people who where worn down by the heat of the oven, soaked with sweat and could hear God whispering.

In part two of The Ice House, 1969 Weaver writes:

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…If there is power in want,

I want to know it and be free of doubt

to be a man who walks on what earth is,

a solidity of words stolen from dreams

cooked up in the minds of star systems

we know only because we believe

the stories pasted on night skies.

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Here Weaver the spiritual poet once again joins in the realism of working in the ice house penning these beautiful images. Weaver’s unique ability to combine the spiritual with realism comes into focus time and again in such poems as Repack Room, A Nation of Hands, Interiors, a Miners Home. And then there is this stark realism from the poem The Winepress:.

Men and women come new, fresh,

step into one end of the mills dancing,

come out the other hobbling, coughing

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up the accumulated frustrations

of paychecks eating away at paychecks,

loan sharks promising to realize dreams.

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Steel mills chew up workers,

Put the young flesh in their jaws,

Teeth shining with ads for things.

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In Ode To The Righteous Union he begins in a Bejjing Starbucks, through the City of Cold Love, the Forbidden City to decaying tobacco barns to Virginia:

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I knew as a boy in Virginia, following

my father’s steps walking long rows,

him following the steps of his father,

each step backward until the first plow

was cast in some old testaments of dirt,

what earth is when it gives life to us, lets

us grow hands that make art from work.

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And so it is that Spirit Boxing by Afaa Michael Weaver is art from the work of life, of knowing the spiritual rooted in realism that warms and warns with each turn of the page.

 

You can find the book here: https://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Boxing-Poetry-Michael-Weaver/dp/0822964589

 

.g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter

 

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Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine – Selected Poems 1970-2010

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Review by g emil reutter
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I plucked this volume published by Bottle Of Smoke Press back in 2010 from my library to have another visit with the poet A.D. Winans. I have several of his chapbooks but I am always drawn to these selected poems for a good read. Winans is at times plainspoken and as he says you won’t need a dictionary to figure out what he is saying. He brings the heart and soul of America into his poems that reflect the hard times people have and some of the good times. As plainspoken as he is in his realism, he is at his best with images such as this from the 3rd stanza For William Wantling:
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The night rolls back its wings
Teeth as cold a naked bone
But neither the night nor
The poet dies quietly
Only the flesh expires
The word linger on welcoming
The taste of ash
And morning comes as no loss
For wherever you are
You survived the pain
Refused to surrender
Earth’s flesh removed from reality
Here in the wakening of dawn
Where the mist smells sweetly
And one can hear the throats
Of birds singing like cannons
In the hour when the spirit
Collects its visions
Replaying them on old walls
Gatsby shots from another era
Stills to fill the void
In a world of runaway tongues
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Winans is a poet of the working class, the disadvantaged. He lives among them and understands them when they pass into the forgotten world of the jobless such as the first 6 stanzas of The System:
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There are old men and women
Who have worked all their lives
Who have put in thirty-five
And forty years for the right
To a pension
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There are old people who have
Worked twenty years
Only to be laid off
Without so much as two weeks
Written notice
Abandoned to seek a living
At half the pay
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There are old people
Who have worked
Most of their lives
Only to witness
The company go belly-up
And find there is no pension
Fund left
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You can find them
On park benches
Or wandering lonely supermarkets
Or sitting daily
At neighborhood bars
Nursing their drinks
Like a blood transfusion
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They come in different flavors
Like lifesavers
Some thin and balding
Some fat and sweating
Some complaining bitterly
Some too proud to let the
Pain show
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So proud that they eat dog food
And find desert in back alley
Garbage cans
Trapped by false promises
Trapped by a belief in a system
That has abandoned them.
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Winans is the direct link to the Beat/Meat poetry movement and thus its child the Outlaw poetry movement. He writes of Bukowski, Ferlinghetti, Kaufman, Micheline and Burroughs, of politics, his time in Panama and visits to Mexico, of his mother and father, of lost loves, of hard times, of haunting memories such as in the poem. I Kiss The Feet Of Angels:
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dark starry night
fog creeping in
over the hills
raindrops falling
on the window
I see the faces of old friends
staring at me
ghosts from the past
freight trains steam ships
subway trains carrying their
cargo of death
Rimbaud the mad hatter
Baudelaire
Lorca fed a dinner of bullets
Kaufman a black messiah
walking Bourbon Street
eating a golden sardine
Micheline drinking with Kerouac
at Cedar Tavern
Jesus wiping the perspiration
from his forehead
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the foghorn plays a symphony
inside my head
I hear the drums
I feel the beat
I kiss the feet
of angels
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Winans is the last one left in the rodeo when it is all said and done. He has lived the life of a poet. A poet, publisher, performer, promoter of other poets, Winans is dedicated to the craft. At the age of 80 Winans is still creating his art. A new book is forthcoming this year, keep an eye out for it. Until then give yourself a gift and pick up a copy of Drowning Like Li Po in a River of Red Wine.
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g emil reutter is a writer of poems and stories. You can find him here:About g emil reutter