Wednesday, November 5, 2008

September 2007 page 3

Milner Place

Another great (and i don't use that term lightly) poet is from the UK...Milner Place. his poems feel they've been washed over with firelight, wine and the dust of the ages. Milner is 77 now and i treasure every word he writes. here's one of his called...

the great river

We sailed in on the breath
of Africa,
into the crimson scent
of shadows
and the lamps were lit
in Sanlucar
de Barrameda.

We rode the tide
drawn by a crescent moon
to mountains,
to a gypsy song
torn from the throat
of history,
the caravel
laden with bloodstained gold
for Santiago in the name
of the Most High King.

We steered through mist
to the deep song
of black water,
for the golden tower,
on the sweep
of the great river,


do a google on him and lend your support and buy his books.

by John Yamrus 2007


Okay, i guess it's time we talked about the 800 pound bear in the room. like him or not, you've got to admit that Charles Bukowski is without a doubt the most influential poet in the last 50 years...since Ginsberg. and, like Ginsberg, he's had profound positive AND negative influences on the genre. people who read one or two Bukowski pieces miss the art that's behind those deceptively simple lines. all they see is what's on the surface...loose, conversational lines that describe daily events, like diary entries. because of that, they think they can do it themselves...and they give it a try...oftentimes spending their entire writing lives trying to write like bukowski and because they see his poems as just so much talk, they end up doing it badly. bukowski (once you get past the carefully cultivated bad boy image...and believe me, he was very much aware of how that image added to his book sales), even with all of his demons, was a very well-read, dedicated artist. he WORKED at his poetry. he didn't sit there all day waiting for inspiration to happen. he wrote and wrote and worked the lines, oftentimes writing dozens of poems a day. because of that, a good many of his poems are repetitive, but he had a way of picking something up and looking at it and describing it. and then he'd pick it up (his subject) and look at it again from a different angle and describe it again. he was never satisfied. and, as he aged, his work matured. i'm not going to say that his style changed much because it was pretty much set from day one....but what he wrote about changed dramatically over the years. it was always about him, Bukowski, and the way he viewed and experienced the world. but he also had this way of taking us along with him on his journey through life, from start to finish... from roadhouse barfly magic man, to up and coming movie script international stardom and acclaim, all the way to the aging, dying man, contemplating his own demise. yes, no matter what you think of Bukowski, it's undeniable that he was a very great artist. like us all, a flawed and fallible human being...but, a very great artist even to the end.

by John Yamrus 2007

Modern Poets in General

It's a very difficult and personal thing to assess or even comment on, but i'll try. now, i'm going under the assumption that we're talking about modern poets...and what i'll try to do here is bring to you a few names (very few) of some people that are as good as it gets, who you will only very very rarely encounter in any bookstores anywhere. (if at all) at the top of my list is one of the most widely published poets in the world, who you've probably never heard of with the exception of my review of his latest book on this site...Gerald Locklin. Locklin's been publishing some of the best poetry in the world since the mid-60s. at the latest count he's published over 130 books and more than 3,000 poems in magazines around the world. someone said to me a while back, concerning the sheer NUMBERS locklin's put up..."sure, he can crank them out, but i'm talking about QUALITY poetry, not quantity." well, i'm talking quality, too. for my money, locklin is the greatest living poet in america. check him out. next on my list would be R.D. Armstrong...AKA Raindog. he publishes his own stuff mostly thru Lumox Press and he's obviously well worth your time. in addition, his Little Red Book series, publishes not only his own work, but poetry from some of the most creative writers from around the world. if you're looking for the same old stuff you can find everywhere else, don't look to Armstrong or his stable of writers....he publishes only leaders, not followers. third on my list is a woman who to date has published only two books...She's published one under her given name...Anita L. Wynn, and the other under the pen name Autolykos. i wrote a review of her first book a few years ago and i described encountering her work for the first time as talking a walk in the forest and finding an angel with her hair on fire. her work is brutal, searing and real. check her out. check them all out. you won't be disappointed.

by John Yamrus 2007

SOLO SONGS by Shell Heller

As a rule, first books are often awkward, gangly, unsure things. First steps. Indications of things to come. That’s what I was prepared to face last year when I first got Shell Heller’s debut book of poems, SOLO SONGS. I’ve been around long enough to know what to expect…poems filled with some promise and more than a little bombast and boast. Poems in which the author makes the mistake of all first-time authors…trying to say everything at once in a grand statement. I expected to find poems with titles like LOVE DECIPHERED or HATE or THE WAY OF THE WORLD. Poems that made you feel the author thinks he or she has it all figured out and that he or she is the first person ever to feel this thought or that emotion. Instead, I was blown away by poems that from the first page to the last, were invested with humanity and understanding. In her poems she’s smooth and subtle, content to allow the readers to come to their own conclusions. She doesn’t hit you over the head with anything. Achieving restraint like that takes time and more than a little talent. I hate quoting bits and pieces of poems because I don’t think it does a poem justice. And I hate quoting complete poems because I think readers should come to them on their own and find them whole and as the writer intended them to be. But, I suppose no review of a book would be tolerated without at least one small quote. I’ll submit this as an example of Shell’s relaxed use of the language. She doesn’t talk down to her readers. And she doesn’t use any poemspeak…you know the kind of crap I’m talking about…poems where the writer uses lines only because they sound “poetic”, often using them with total disregard for the meaning they impart. Well, here’s the first stanza of one of the finest poems in the book. It’s called “the always”:

“i send you
than angels
to embrace
you, love, as you
cry and reach for me
in dreams.”

There’s nothing fancy here, it’s just real as hell. Yes, Shell Heller is a bona fide poet. Not a pretender to the throne. Do yourself a favor…order a copy of SOLO SONGS and when it comes in the mail, wait until it’s late at night and everyone’s asleep except you, and yours is the only light left on in the entire house. Then, one by one…poem by poem…make your way through this excellent book. I guarantee you it’ll be an evening to remember. Finally, let me say this and then I’ll get out of your way. If this first book is any indication of things to come, then we’ve all got a lot to look forward to.
John Yamrus
July 5, 2007

By Shell Heller
Published by Publish America

A review by John Yamrus 2007

A kinda/sorta review of Gerald Locklin's New Orleans, Chicago, And Points Elsewhere

I’ve known Gerald Locklin for 30 years now. Back then I was managing a clothing store in Reading, Pennsylvania and publishing a cheap literary quarterly that leaned toward poetry because that’s what I wanted and so that’s what I did. Distribution for the magazine was small…the number of subscriptions was even smaller. But every couple of months I’d get a stack of poems sent to me by Locklin, who by that time was already a big name in the underground press. And, gentleman that he is, he wouldn’t just submit his poems, he would also write these long, wonderfully chatty and informative letters about anything and nothing…about the water dripping in his sink and about the literary lions he’d occasionally meet up with. Anything. Nothing. Things that meant a lot to someone publishing an under-appreciated and hardly read little magazine. I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to those letters and those poems. The poems were fresh and vibrant and funny and alive. The letters, equally so.

Now, all these years later, he’s still turning out some of the most consistently good poetry you’ll ever hope to find. It’s astonishing to me to think that he’s published somewhere around 130 books. Not only that, but California State University in its Locklin collection has catalogued more than 3,000 of his published poems! That’s just the ones they’ve found! My guess is the real number is significantly higher.

His newest book of poetry is called NEW ORLEANS, CHICAGO, AND POINTS ELSEWHERE. The poems in this 94 page volume are arranged roughly around the cities in which the action in the poems takes place. For my money, Locklin always seemed to be at his best when writing about either great art or great jazz (he’s a knowledgeable connoisseur of both) and the central section of this book is titled CHICAGO AND THE ART INSTITUTE. In it, he writes some pretty slick stuff about his visits to the Institute. I’ll quote one of my favorites in its entirety:

monet was one prolific motherfucker

all those haystacks,
all those lilies,
all those seascapes,
all those twilights on the thames…

as opposed to poor seurat,
< known for one painting
(and a musical)
and caillebotte,
mainly for two,
(so far no musical).

but if you’re only going to be known
for a couple of great works,
you might as well make them
big ones.

and hope they end up centerpieces –
logos –
of a great collection.

Such a relaxed style. The man doesn’t even bother with capitals. It’s like he’s just talking to you…one on one…conversationally…friend to friend. Work like this - in fact, Locklin’s entire career as a writer - has contributed greatly to the humanization and demystification of modern poetry. Aw, heck, I can’t resist quoting another poem from the book:

as time goes by

i speak to strangers
all the time now,
out of the blue,
hesitating only momentarily,
unable to stop myself,
on planes,
at the ymca pool,
in bookstores,
crossing campus.

i ask about the food they’re eating,
the wine or beer they’ve selected,
their destination, the weather,
the book they’re reading,
life in general.

to the woman who is on the flight
back from grading
advanced placement essays
in Daytona beach,
i say, of the power and the glory,
“that’s a great book.”

“unh-hunh,” she says,
and goes back to her reading.

well, how was i supposed to compete
with a great book like that?

No big deal here…no attempts to write the Great American Poem. This is just Locklin going through his day, showing us what life is all about. He’s been doing it for 40 years. If you’ve never read a book of poems by Gerald Locklin…NEW ORLEANS, CHICAGO, AND POINTS ELSEWHERE is as good a place as any to start.

John Yamrus

New Orleans, Chicago, And Points Elsewhere
R)v Press
90 pp

A review by John Yamrus 2007


Todd Moore has just published the following review of my books ONE STEP AT A TIME and BLUE COLLAR in St. Vitus Press. With his kind permission I'm reprinting it here.


The kind of poetry John Yamrus writes is what most people would tell each other over drinks at three o’clock in the morning if they were conscious enough or literate enough to talk like that. This is not a poetry of metaphor and simile. This is not a poetry of rich literary allusion. Or, lets put it this way, this is a poetry of bare bones literary allusion, the stuff needed to get you through the day or night. Heroes like Steinbeck and Bukowski and though I don’t recall a mention of Gerald Locklin, I think Locklin must mean a lot to John Yamrus. The one thing Yamrus’ poetry is definitely not is academic. This is not MFA/writing school poetry. Instead, it’s the stuff that’s ground out of the blood and the bone of everyday existence.

Though the spirit of Charles Bukowski inhabits these poems, John Yamrus’ poetry has a voice and style that is entirely his own. It struggles with Bukowski. It struggles to define itself in the very real light of the myth of Charles Bukowski. But it wins the right to exist because it acknowledges a debt to the man, a large debt owed by a whole generation of poets.

For as long as I can remember I have been reading poems by John Yamrus. Back in the typewriter font and mimeograph day I used to see Yamrus’ poetry all over the map. And, i was never disappointed. And, still am not. What Yamrus learned early and well is how to write a poem that needs to end somewhere and sometime soon. He never over writes, he never under writes. He has always known just where the poem comes to a dead stop, like the end of a breath or a head on collision. Isaac Babel once said that a sentence should end with a period that is more like a black wound in the heart. This is what Yamrus has learned.

Bukowski’s property

this poem
isn’t mine these
thoughts aren’t
mine these
sentences aren’t
mine these

mine these
lines aren’t

i do
or think
or write
is mine.
it’s all filtered down
through you
Mr. Bukowski…
and i wish
come here
take it back.

from One Step At A Time, p. 71.

While there are several poems in both collections which mention old Hank, “Bukowski’s property” works for me as a kind of key to what Yamrus is doing, at least in these two books. Most obviously, Yamrus admits in this poem that Bukowski has been a major influence on him. Essentially, what he says is that Bukowski has made such an important impact on poetry that he basically owns the language and that Yamrus, in this poem and very likely in most of his work, is pretty much borrowing Bukowski’s language just to write the poetry that Yamrus is driven to write. He is doing what so many contemporary poets neglect doing. Yamrus is fessing up to the influence and fessing up big time. In a sense, this is very much like stealing the language from the gods or at least one still very powerful god, even though he is dead. Looked at this way, it is an act of bravery.

However, because “Bukowski’s property” is a key John Yamrus poem, lets take this analysis just a little further. The lines in this poem are not the classic lines that you would find in a Charles Bukowski poem. Most of the best of Bukowski’s work is usually more long lined, though later in life he did write some short liners. Yamrus’ lines in this poem are never more than four words long. Which means this isn’t typical Bukowski. In fact, it comes closer to the kind of poem that Lyn Lifshin might write. The lines are short and more often than not broken in places that you wouldn’t expect. And, there is the kind of poem that I write. The major difference is that I never use stationary titles. My titles mostly leap into the poem and race down from there the way the rest of this poem scans down the page quickly and reads like a close to the bone conversation with a very severe poetic self.

One influence that John Yamrus has not mentioned is Gerald Locklin. As I stated before, I have read through both books carefully and can’t find a mention of his name anywhere except in a blurb on the back cover of One Step At A Time. The fact is, I find as much Gerald Locklin in these poems as I do Charles Bukowski. Equal parts to be exact. But, I do not mean these remarks as a diminishment of John Yamrus’ poetry. In fact, what I am suggesting is that Yamrus, maybe from early on, had somehow found a way to synthesize the styles of Charles Bukowski and Gerald Locklin. This is no mean feat when you stop to think about it. Bukowski met life headon and with no reservations. He was the rowdy, the tough guy, the down and outer slouched over a drink at a bar. Locklin, on the other hand, continues to write a kind of dialed down poem, full of failed attempts and attempted failures, a man who loves jazz and books, a poet who prefers meditation to action, a poet who lives the nondramatic life and who writes from a stance of self effacement.

And, it is this mix of meeting life headon along with a certain amount of self effacement that you will find in “Bukowski’s property” and also in many of the poems in these two books. What I am getting at here is that by synthesizing the styles of Charles Bukowski and Gerald Locklin, John Yamrus has somehow gone beyond both poets and has arrived at a voice and a style that is uniquely and ingeniously his. The irony is that by writing this way John Yamrus has somehow gained title to “Bukowski’s property” and to something I would like to call the John Yamrus poem. Not many contemporary poets can lay claim to that distinction.


Todd Moore's work has appeared in over a thousand magazines and literary journals. His style has been called pared down and noir. He's one of the founders of Outlaw Poetry and his work is featured in THE OUTLAW BIBLE OF AMERICAN POETRY. His long poem DILLINGER has been critically hailed as"hypnotic when read, cinematic in scope." He has just finished a novel called DREAMING OF BILLY THE KID and his new collection of poetry is entitled LOVE & DEATH & TEETH IN THE BLOOD.

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